The entire country turned its focus on combatting the COVID-19 global pandemic this month, including Native American communities. We’re sharing the most important updates from March, as well as a few additional headlines from Indian Country. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn and stay up to date with the latest headlines all year long.
- “Tribal communities know death by pandemic. As history threatens to repeat itself with the menace of the novel coronavirus, tribal communities are turning to their teachings and one another to protect themselves amid what they call a near total failure of federal resources to help, despite solemn promises in treaties. No one is waiting in these communities for someone else to come to the rescue. Response to the threat of the virus by tribal governments and health care providers has been swift and aggressive. Tribal governments are sovereign in their territory, with broad emergency powers — and they are using them.”
- “Sharon Bahe has made her home on the Navajo Nation a refuge, placing cedar branches and burning sage to help purify the space and praying for protection for herself and her children home from boarding school and a toddler with severe asthma. Her community of about 500 in northern Arizona has become a hot spot for the new coronavirus, with several cases confirmed. While other kids play outside, she tells hers they can’t ‘until the virus goes away.’ Officials on the Navajo Nation, the largest Native American reservation, on Friday broadened a stay-at-home order from Chilchinbeto to the entire reservation: No visitors in, and residents can’t leave their homes except for essential tasks, including to get food and medical supplies.”
- “The Trump administration has held up $40 million in emergency aid Congress approved earlier this month to help American Indians combat the coronavirus — a delay that’s left tribal leaders across the nation frustrated and ill-equipped to respond to the fast-growing outbreak. The funding has languished in bureaucratic limbo for weeks, despite increasingly urgent pleas from tribal organizations desperate to stockpile essential supplies and keep health clinics operational. Federally run American Indian health facilities are well short on hospital beds and ventilators, some frontline clinics received fewer than a dozen coronavirus tests, and federal officials have already signaled there will be little in the way of reinforcements — telling tribal leaders that all they can send right now are expired respirators.”
- “The normal sound of students shuffling through the hall has been replaced by silence at Marty Indian School, a kindergarten to grade 12 facility on the Yankton Sioux Tribe’s reservation in South Dakota. Following in the footsteps of other school officials across the country, Superintendent John Beheler said the decision was made to close Marty Indian on Thursday and Friday ahead of this week’s spring break. It comes after an Indian Health Service patient in Charles Mix County, where the school and reservation are, tested positive Wednesday for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, health officials said. An Indian Health Service official said the person had traveled to a conference in the United States, and others who came into contact with the patient were being tested as well.”
Why Native people ‘need to count’ in the 2020 census via Crosscut
- “When Ramona Bennett became a member of the Puyallup Tribal Council in 1968, she wanted to see change. The tribe had no health clinic, no school, no large source of income like the casino they currently own. They didn’t even own their cemetery. ‘This tribe literally had nothing,’ she recalled. At the time, the Puyallup Tribe was down to about 170 enrolled members, a stark contrast to the more than 5,000 it has today. ‘We had no services, none whatsoever, and no recognized rights,’ said Bennett, who wanted the tribe to have a clinic and a school. Both required money it didn’t have, so she set out to apply for grants. That, she soon realized, was an issue in itself.”
Native American Winemaker Tara Gomez Is Making History via The Daily Beast
- “For the last 15,000 years, members of the Chumash Indian tribe have lived in California on land they believed was given to them by the gods. Their original territory ran from Malibu to Monterey until settlers crammed them onto a sliver of property, a 127-acre reservation near Santa Barbara. Today, the area is more well-known for its wines rather than the history of the Chumash people, but that might soon change. Tara Gomez is a spirited woman with a vivacious chuckle that often peppers her sentences. Her father was a Chumash tribal elder and her mother is from the Pueblo tribe in Arizona. She is the only certified Native American winemaker in the country and produces wines with her tribe at their Camp 4 Vineyards.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted communities around the world, including those in Indian Country. We are watching it unfold day after day – health systems, economies and industries are in various states of unraveling, crashing or being over-run and quarantines are becoming commonplace as nations attempt to contain the “invisible enemy.” These isolation measures have been extended to churches and other places of worship to curb congregations of 10 or more people and the idea of having “packed churches” by Easter Sunday seems more like a dream than reality.
This situation has given me pause to reflect…how will COVID-19 impact tribal ceremonies? With more than 570 sovereign nations in the U.S., there are many solutions and even more opinions. So, I asked several tribal members how their community will be dealing with the fallout as we enter Spring.
I first spoke with a member of my own tribe, the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation. He is a childhood friend and holds a special place in our religious community. Spring is the most important ceremony of the year for us and more like a New Year’s than December 31st. Spring is the time for new life, getting out of the darkness and cold of winter to start a new cycle of planting, animals awakening and hunting.
Spring also brings the thunderstorms that help clear away the pain and sickness previously endured for a fresh beginning. Other spring and summertime ceremonies include Naming and Memorial Day services, specific songs are sung, prayers are prayed and Elders gather to ensure traditions are “done in a good way” (carried on correctly). They provide oversight and tease us with stories about our own childhood or our parents’ follies. This is a generally consistent theme throughout Indian Country, albeit different in the details.
But not this year – not this spring and not in our community. My tribe has cancelled Spring Dance and other tribes are evaluating this as well. The risk of “community spread” to our Elders is just too high. Our Elders – the fluent speakers of our language, wisdom keepers of our traditions and storytellers for our future– are entirely too valuable to expose to this “invisible enemy.”
I also spoke with a tribal member from a ceremonial society in the Southwest, and he shared the same concerns. In his community, announcements and changes are coming daily. Their community is wrestling with ways to carry-on their cultural ceremonial responsibilities without compromising the health and safety of their members. They are brainstorming on ways to have a scaled-back version of ceremony, incorporating social distancing measures to their practices or foregoing altogether.
There is no “one size fits all” solution for tribes at this unprecedented time. But one thing is for certain: this virus has no regard for skin color or socio-economic status and can decimate entire communities – and do so quickly. Our ancestors likely never envisioned anything like ceremonies at a distance, but what’s important today is that we keep our unity and traditions alive in our hearts and minds as we await the renewal Spring always brings.
Memories fade as time passes but for many, some moments are forever present. 55 years ago, the U.S. entered the Vietnam War – marking one of the most notorious conflicts in U.S. history. Today, we recognize March 29 as National Vietnam War Veterans Day and take a moment to honor those soldiers who fought bravely and the families who stood by them.
The Vietnam War was surrounded by controversy in the midst of the civil rights movement. However, Americans were called to serve in the war and some 2.2 million men were recruited in different capacities while 2.7 million solders served in total – including 42,000 Native Americans. Most of these soldiers showed their dedication to our country through their military service. About 58,000 did not return home and another 153,000 were wounded. Many returned with challenges that changed their lives forever.
Today, less than 850,000 Vietnam veterans remain and many of them rely on assistance from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to treat physical injuries and psychological trauma, and obtain housing, employment and insurance. Unfortunately, accessing federal VA programs can take a long time and programs often are underfunded, leaving our veterans with insufficient resources.
Other nonprofits have stepped in to fill the gap, such as the Disabled American Veterans (DAV) charity and the Vietnam Veterans Association (VVA). PWNA also serves many veterans with nutrition, health and emergency services through its partners in reservation communities. DAV has also previously collaborated with PWNA to support our Breakfast in a Bag service for Native American Elders on the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota, offered through our Northern Plains Reservation Aid program.
Today, we encourage you to honor the legacy of Native American soldiers who served in Vietnam and donate to those nonprofits that directly impact veterans whose lives were forever changed in fighting for our freedom.
The night is calm, the air is still, the chill is ever so slight. You can hear the bugs starting to jostle around and make their noises and the few calls of birds building their nests. These are signs that Spring (or the vernal) equinox is upon us.
The equinoxes mark the changing of Earth’s orientation and are significant to our yearly calendar – along with the moons, days and solstices. Simply put, the equinoxes occur when the “wobble” of the earth reaches a position where the sun crosses the equator. For those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, the March equinox means marks warmer weather and longer days – and the first official day of Spring (March 19 this year). Vice versa, March equinox marks the beginning of fall in the Southern Hemisphere.
The equinoxes are recognized by many Native cultures for the purposes of practicality and ceremony. For one thing, equinoxes traditionally helped mark migration periods when tribes moved north or south, where herds of animals for hunting might be, and what plants might be dormant. Knowing what the seasons represented and how they impacted lands at any given time was essential to the survival of nomadic tribes.
For many Native American cultures, the seasons also coincide with certain traditions and beliefs. The arrival of warmer weather signals the return of animals and plants. Beautiful greens roll across the plains and mountains, and wildlife forages in the area. Tribes recognize this as the time to gather, confer with one another and make decisions that affect the community as a whole. For our ancestors, these gatherings decided who got to go where, how adversarial tribes were to be handled, and what new resources were available.
Spring represents a time of rebirth, where warmth returns, flowers bloom and animals come out of hibernation to greet a new year. Even today, we are reminded that spring marks renewal and we look forward to the good tidings ahead.
As the world continues to grapple with the reality of the COVID-19 pandemic, communities in Indian Country are working to address their own unique challenges in combatting the coronavirus. Multiple people have tested positive on Native American reservations, including (as of this posting) 26 confirmed cases on the Navajo Nation that occupies portions of Arizona, Utah and New Mexico as well as a case at a South Dakota Indian Health Service clinic.
Many tribal communities lack access to basic resources such as food, water and toilet paper every day. And now more than ever, these supplies are vital as Native Elders who finally get transportation for shopping are finding the shelves bare. Tribal governments that rely on casino income are also facing additional revenue concerns now that all the casinos have temporarily closed.
With all the schools closed, food and water are critical for Native families who often depend on school meals for their children. Paula Claw, our Navajo Relief Fund program chairperson, shared a vision we are seeing across America – only this one is different: “Our families face the shortages of food because of school closures and possibly medicine refills because of transportation issues. The local trading posts are being bombarded by people from other areas purchasing all the food… and making it difficult for our [Native American Elders] to purchase the food they need… [When the trading posts] restock, meat, potatoes, tissue and Clorox, they are gone in a few hours. They have decided to ration the purchase of some items.”
So why is the coronavirus more of a crisis on the reservations? Because there are limited stores, limited transportation and limited access on a good day. And this threat is exaggerated by the reality of limited healthcare in the face of COVID-19.
Earlier this month, Senator Tom Udall, D-N.M., who is the vice chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, presented an emergency relief package to Vice President Mike Pence that asks for $64 million in funding to assist tribal leaders and urban Indian health departments with combatting coronavirus for the 2.5 million American Indian and Alaska Natives in the U.S. As Sen. Udall said, “Tribal communities face unique challenges in responding to public health threats, and we need to do everything we can to make sure that Native Americans don’t get left behind.”
While tribal communities await a decision on federal funding, Partnership With Native Americans (PWNA) is doing all we can to continue to make deliveries to our tribal partners. We are also following health best practices for our drivers and staff, including social distancing, handwashing and sanitizing.
Several reservations have enacted travel restrictions to mitigate the risk of spreading the virus, including Rosebud, Pine Ridge, Northern Cheyenne, the Navajo Nation and (as of this posting) nine others in the Northern Plains and Southwest. However, each of these communities has continued to allow PWNA onto the reservation so that we can distribute vital supplies to program partners, such as food, water, food, toilet paper and other essentials, as part of our Northern Plains Reservation Aid and Southwest Reservation Aid programs.
Besides those with travel restrictions, our partners throughout Indian Country are depending on PWNA to continue to deliver and help address their most immediate needs. Our warehouse distribution center teams in South Dakota and Phoenix are working tirelessly to distribute critical supplies, along with our drivers who are putting in the maximum number of DOT-allotted driving hours to ensure we reach communities quickly.
Unfortunately, our warehouse supplies are running low and donations to PWNA are critical so that we can quickly replenish our food, water, toilet paper, paper towels and personal hygiene items. We also need you to educate friends and family about how the stress of COVID-19 is further exposing tribal communities to nutrition and health disparities. Now more than ever, we urge Americans to come together and help those most in need.
World Water Day (March 22) is an annual campaign led by the United Nations (UN Water) to bring attention to water as a precious resource. Access to clean water is a critical concern for many developing countries. However, many people are unaware of just how serious this issue is in the U.S. At least 2 million Americans are living without running water or a working toilet at home, according to the most recent report from Dig Deep and the US Water Alliance.
Water Scarcity in Native Communities
Unfortunately, Native American households are 19 times more likely than non-Native households to lack indoor plumbing. Some families on the Navajo Nation and in the Southwest drive hours to haul barrels of water to meet daily needs. Extreme weather events caused by climate change only add to the problem by making water increasingly contaminated and scarce.
While it may seem like water is an abundant, ever-flowing resource, for many – including those living on Native American reservations – this is not always the case. PWNA offers services to deliver clean drinking water to reservations that need it most. Visit our Material Services and Disaster Relief pages for more information on our water relief efforts.
This year, World Water Day will focus on the connection between climate change and water access – educating communities around the world not only about the need to improve access to clean water but the importance of preserving water and understanding water scarcity.
When it comes to fighting climate change and preserving water, small lifestyle changes can make a meaningful impact. Here are seven simple steps you can take today to improve your environmental footprint and minimize water use, waste and emissions:
- Reduce showers to 5 minutes maximum.
- Participate in meatless Mondays.
- Purchase locally sourced produce.
- Bring reusable bags on grocery trips.
- Unplug electronics when they aren’t in use.
- Turn lights off whenever possible.
- Walk or bike places instead of driving.
Find out how can you can participate in World Water Day by visiting www.worldwaterday.org.
National Nutrition Month in March was created by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and focuses on the importance of making informed food choices and developing sound eating and physical activity habits. Unfortunately, healthy foods are not always easily accessible to individuals living in reservation communities.
Low food security is a daily issue for the reservations PWNA serves, and nutrition-related disease rates such as diabetes are high. And while food banks operate within some of these reservations, many lack an adequate supply of food to meet the rising demand. Over the years, PWNA has helped to not only meet immediate nutritional needs for thousands of Native Americans but also establish services that offer long-term solutions to food insecurity.
PWNA joined Newman’s Own Foundation’s Native American Nutrition Cohort in 2018 to collaborate with other Native nonprofits on food security and solutions. PWNA is also a part of the Arizona Department of Agriculture (ADA) Food & Agriculture Policy Advisory Committee to explore opportunities for increased food security and food access for the state’s Native American communities.
Through Native partnerships and supporters such as Newman’s Own Foundation and Walmart Foundation, PWNA has continued to enhance Native nutrition and food security on the reservations, implementing projects such as Mobile Nutrition Education and Train-The-Trainer (T3) to educate communities on local gardening and foraging, food preservation, and healthy cooking using local food sources and indigenous recipes.
Most recently, we partnered with the Lakota Food Sovereignty Coalition and Thunder Valley CDC co-hosting the 1st Annual Lakota Food Summit in Rapid City, South Dakota on Feb. 18-20. Presentations focused on food sovereignty, traditional foods and nutrition, gardening and harvesting, food processing, culture and community education. PWNA included many of our T3 nutrition trainees and other partners from the region to support the event. Sioux Chef Sean Sherman led a food tasting social with ancestral foods made by Native chefs from surrounding tribal lands. Cooking interns from the Cheyenne River Youth Project prepared one of Sherman’s recipes for the tasting – Sunflower+Squash Seed thumbprint cookies with no dairy, cane or artificial sugars.
This year’s National Nutrition Month campaign is focused on encouraging people to “eat right, bite by bite” and implement minor changes in their diet that are a step in the right direction. The campaign’s 2020 toolkit offers free resources for everyone, including tip sheets, handouts, games and activities. We encourage you to download the toolkit and help educate your community on the importance of properly nourishing our bodies.
World Spay Day is recognized on the last Tuesday of February to raise awareness around the importance of affordable and accessible spay and neuter programs. While the day for 2020 has recently come and gone, neutering pets maintains its importance year-round.
World Spay Day was originally created in 1995 by the Doris Day Animal League – a national animal advocacy group in the U.S. Today, it’s recognized by roughly 70 countries around the globe and shines a light on the accessibility of life-saving spay and neuter programs. For some pet owners, a basic need such as spaying and neutering their pets can be a huge financial burden, and some may be unaware of the importance of this procedure for their pets.
Reservation Animal Rescue (RAR), a program of PWNA, provides animal welfare services to our reservation partners. They receive support in various capacities, such as foster kits with supplies to assist during rescue, rehabilitation and placement of animals, small grants to help with shelter repairs, or grants to support local or mobile spay and neuter clinics as part of our “Pet Promise.”
RAR’s Pet Promise aims to increase accessibility by supporting more spay and neuter clinics on the reservations, which is critical to controlling the number of stray dogs and cats roaming the reservations. In the Navajo Nation alone, it’s estimated there can be upward of 6,000 stray dogs and cats at any given time. Spaying/neutering reduces an animal’s urge to roam, making pets less likely to contract a disease, fight with other animals, be injured or wander into traffic. Clinics supported by Pet Promise also provide vaccinations for dogs and cats and preventive medicine to help address fleas and ticks, worms and more.
If you are interested in helping us reduce the number of stray reservation animals and increase access to spay and neuter services, consider making a donation to Reservation Animal Rescue or visit our RAR website for more information on how you can help improve quality of life for reservation animals, which are also known to us as the four-leggeds.
As the shortest month of the year wraps up, the amount of important national and regional news topics around Native Americans remains strong across the country. We’re sharing a compilation of some of the most noteworthy Native American headlines from the month of February. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn and stay up to date with the latest headlines all year long.
How Native American Communities Are Addressing Climate Change via Science Friday
- “Indigenous peoples are one of the most vulnerable communities when it comes to the effects of climate change. This is due to a mix of cultural, economic, policy and historical factors. Some Native American tribal governments and councils have put together their own climate risk assessment plans. Native American communities are very diverse—and the challenges and adaptations are just as varied. Professor Kyle Whyte, a tribal member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, says that many of the species and food resources that are affected by climate change are also important cultural pieces, which are integral to the identity and cohesion of tribes.”
- “The twins were scheduled to be delivered on Aug. 21, 2019, and Stephanie Snook was nervous. Her pregnancy had not been planned. Snook was born with a heart condition; after her first two children, she had been told getting pregnant again could put too much stress on her heart. Nonetheless, Snook, 37, a warehouse clerk in food services at the Seattle Mariners’ ballpark, trusted she was in good hands. A member of the Tsimshian and Tlingit tribes of Alaska, she had been going to a community health clinic that primarily caters to Native populations near her Seattle home. Once she found out she was having twins, she switched to a high-risk maternal-fetal specialist at Seattle’s Swedish hospital system.”
Couple from Ohio helping Native Americans break into film, television via Columbus Alive
- “Before filming began on the 2017 film ‘Wind River’ — a neo-Western starring Elizabeth Olsen and Jeremy Renner — writer/director Taylor Sheridan decided a crew composed of at least some Native Americans would lend authenticity to the production. After all, much of the action in the murder mystery took place on tribal lands in Wyoming. At Sheridan’s behest, Ohio natives Eric Parmater and Elizabeth Bell, both of whom worked on the production (Bell as a credited producer) took the lead on hiring American Indians for some roles behind the camera. Since then, Parmater, who moved to Columbus from Cincinnati as a young adult, and Bell, who grew up in Bexley, have kept that emphasis on diversity at the forefront of their hiring practices, including their work on the Paramount Network series ‘Yellowstone.’”
- “The Pueblo people created rock carvings in the Mesa Verde region of the Southwest United States about 800 years ago to mark the position of the sun on the longest and shortest days of the year, archaeologists now say. Panels of ancient rock art, called petroglyphs, on canyon walls in the region show complex interactions of sunlight and shadows. These interactions can be seen in the days around the winter and summer solstices, when the sun reaches its southernmost and northernmost points, respectively, and, to a lesser extent, around the equinoxes — the ‘equal nights’— in spring and fall, the researchers said.”
PWNA has a diverse group of bloggers who create original content every week of the year to keep readers informed about modern day challenges and successes across Indian Country. Our readers are diverse as well and follow us through a wide collection of topics. In any given year, we blog about Native American history and culture, Elders and youth, Native films and education, Indigenous nutrition, water and disaster response, reservation animal rescue, veterans, holidays, fundraisers and hot topics, to name but a few.
So today, we’d like to take a step back and invite you — our readers — to help us define future content by letting us know what you’d like to see covered on the PWNA blog. Please let us know by answering this simple, open-ended survey: http://blog.nativepartnership.org/quiz/reader-survey-2020/