Search for unmarked graves set to resume at site of former Camsell Hospital

CBC ABORIGINAL NEWS - 4 hours 34 min ago
Camsell search

Excavation work is set to resume Thursday at the site of the former Camsell Hospital, where Indigenous people were sent for decades with some believed to have died and been buried on the grounds.

Fort Folly First Nation makes big switch to solar energy

CBC ABORIGINAL NEWS - 7 hours 4 min ago
Chief Rebecca Knockwood said the installation of solar panels is an investment in the Future of Fort Folly First Nation.

Four buildings in Fort Folly First Nation will soon be completely powered by the sun, as part of a move towards renewable energy in Mi’kmaq communities across New Brunswick.

Ceremony at site of former western Manitoba residential school fulfils wish of late Dakota elder

CBC ABORIGINAL NEWS - 8 hours 4 min ago
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Children who were forced to attend residential school in Elkhorn, Man., were honoured in a ceremony this week.

Interviewing the Governor General in my language felt like reconciliation

CBC ABORIGINAL NEWS - 10 hours 4 min ago
Pauline Pemik

'Reconciliation is real and I felt it that day,' writes CBC North reporter Pauline Pemik, who interviewed Canada's new Governor General — in Inuktitut.

Search of former Mohawk Institute Residential School grounds expected to take over a year

CBC ABORIGINAL NEWS - 10 hours 4 min ago
training search

With training underway, the search for unmarked graves at the former Mohawk Institute Residential School in Brantford, Ont., is close to starting. The group leading the search efforts say it will take over a year to cover the roughly 200 hectares of land.

Education is a key component to advancing reconciliation

CBC ABORIGINAL NEWS - 10 hours 4 min ago
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As a lifelong educator, I believe the first step to reconciliation is helping individual citizens come to grips with Canada’s true history.

What's wrong with land acknowledgements, and how to make them better

CBC ABORIGINAL NEWS - 10 hours 4 min ago
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In an era of reconciliation, land acknowledgments are meant to recognize First Nations, Inuit and Métis territory, but many Indigenous people argue they’ve grown to become superficial, performative — and problematic.

How a big win for a First Nation in B.C. could bring change for resource development in Canada

CBC ABORIGINAL NEWS - 10 hours 4 min ago
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First Nations, industry and legal experts are examining what the outcome of a B.C. court decision could mean elsewhere, including future development near Alberta’s massive oilsands.

Native America Calling: Questions about federal pandemic relief distribution

INDIANZ.COM - 14 hours 3 min ago
Native America Calling: Latest Shows
Native America Calling: Questions about federal pandemic relief distribution
Your National Electronic Talking Circle
Thursday, October 21, 2021

The more than $200 billion in federal pandemic aid to tribes provided welcome financial relief at a critical time.

But a new analysis points out what the study’s authors say is vastly inequitable distribution of that money. Scholars with the Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development say flaws in the formula established to distribute the money are the main culprit and both the Biden and Trump administrations chose to ignore recommendations by tribes and others to make the allocations more fair.

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Native America Calling

Listen to Native America Calling LIVE every weekday at 1pm Eastern.

Navajo president backs bill to protect Native American voting rights

CRONKITE NEWS - October 20, 2021 - 10:49pm

WASHINGTON – Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez told a Senate panel Wednesday that special protections are needed to reverse the “very disrespectful” treatment of Native Americans who face extraordinary challenges in the voting process.

Nez joined others urging a Senate Judiciary subcommittee to support the Native American Voting Rights Act, which would set minimum federal requirements for voting on tribal lands, including early voting, mail-in balloting, ballot collecting and ID standards.

“It’s not about Democrat or Republican,” Nez said. “It’s about doing the right thing.”

This includes addressing the many voting barriers that are unique to Native Americans, such as the lack of voting locations on reservations, which makes it difficult for them to vote, Nez said.

“Traveling to polling places can be particularly burdensome,” he said.

But critics at the hearing said the bill goes too far and would open tribal voting to abuse and fraud.

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“I agree that we should vigorously protect every American’s right to vote,” said Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas. “But unfortunately this bill … would expand voter fraud rather than combat it.”

Cruz accused Democrats of using voting rights as a cover for election reforms aimed at “seizing power and ensuring Democrats stay in power for the next 100 years.”

The hearing came less than an hour after Senate Republicans blocked debate Wednesday on the Freedom to Vote Act, a voting rights bill aimed at all Americans that would expand voter registration, increase early and mail-in voting and make Election Day a national holiday, among other measures.

That bill was a slimmed-down version of the House-passed For the People Act, which Senate Democrats had amended in hopes of getting some Republican support. But all 50 Senate Republicans voted against it Wednesday, denying Democrats the 60 votes needed to end a filibuster and proceed on the bill.

The Native American Voting Rights Act was introduced in August by Sen. Ben Ray Luján, D-N.M., and has 17 co-sponsors, all Democrats. One of those co-sponsors, Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Calif, said the bill is needed to “ensure that Tribal communities are not denied equal participation in our democratic process.”

The bill would allow tribes to specify locations of voter registration sites, ballot drop boxes and polling locations on reservations and requires states to accept tribally issued ID cards as valid voting identification. It would also make it harder for states to cancel polling places, set minimum standards for early voting and require that states allow voters to give their ballot to someone else to deliver – even in states, like Arizona, that otherwise prohibit such so-called “ballot harvesting.”

Sara Frankenstein said the bill is too broad and “takes control over elections out of the hands of the election administrator, for which he is trained and elected. This raises several legal and practical concerns.”

Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez, left, and Sen. Ben Ray Lujan, D-N.M., the lead sponsor of the Native American Voting Rights Act that would extend new protections to the vote on tribal lands, talk before a Senate Judiciary subcomittee hearing on the bill. (Photo by Diannie Chavez/Cronkite News)

Frankenstein, a South Dakota attorney who represents election officials and handles election law cases, pointed to the bill’s requirement that Native American voters can have their absentee ballots sent to a public building, since many homes on reservations do not have street addresses. Having hundreds of ballots arrive at a public building – and with no person in charge – can lead to fraud because there is no way to know the ballot was received by the correct owner, she said at the hearing.

“This is a solution in search of a problem,” Frankenstein said.

That was echoed by Wyoming Secretary of State Edward Buchanan, who said that the measures would not increase security or confidence in the vote but would only lead to doubt in the election process.

“You cannot have an election that people don’t believe in,” Buchanan said. “Because if they don’t believe that the result has integrity, you will drive down election participation.”

He pointed to the ballot harvesting requirement, which said states “may not allow any limit on how many voted and sealed absentee ballots any designated person can return.” That would lead to fraud because there would be no way to know that absentee ballots were delivered to a registered voter.

“There is no way it can’t happen, and the hard part is that you won’t even know that it is happening,” Buchanan said.

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But supporters said ballot collections, drop boxes and absentee ballots address very real problems on tribal lands.

In the 2018 election, Navajo voters in Arizona had to travel up to 236 miles round trip to participate in early voting, Nez said. Tribal members may not own a vehicle that will let them make that trip on their own, and many may not have mailing addresses needed to get a mail-in ballot.

Jacqueline De León, staff attorney for the Native American Rights Fund, said the difficulty Indigenous voters face “also communicates to Native Americans that their vote is unwelcomed.”

“What is being communicated … is that your vote doesn’t matter and that you’re not part of the American system,” she said.

De León said the lack of home addresses on tribal lands and requirement of an ID in some states are examples of “ongoing discrimination and governmental neglect.”

“Many Native Americans live in overcrowded homes that do not have addresses, do not receive mail, and are located on dirt roads that can be impassable in the wintery November,” De León said.

De León and Nez rejected the fears of fraud raised by critics, saying protections are still built into the law and election fraud would still be illegal. They pointed instead to the rights that are being denied under the current law, which is why the new law is needed.

“We need to make sure the rights of Indigenous peoples are protected,” Nez said. “There should be a responsibility to fight for Indigenous peoples’ rights.”

The post Navajo president backs bill to protect Native American voting rights appeared first on Cronkite News - Arizona PBS.

‘It’s who we are’: Apache people take fight for sacred site to federal court

INDIANZ.COM - October 20, 2021 - 7:45pm
Becket Fund for Religious Liberty: Protect Oak Flat
‘It’s who we are’: Apache people take fight for sacred site to federal court
Wednesday, October 20, 2021

The Biden administration is facing a major test of its commitment to sacred sites as citizens of the San Carlos Apache Tribe head to court in a long-running battle to protect one of their most important places.

Tribal citizens have been going to Oak Flat since time immemorial to pray, hold ceremonies, gather food and engage in other religious activities. The site, known as Chi’chil Biłdagoteel in the Apache language, plays a central role in the health and well-being of the San Carlos people.

“We Apache — it’s who we are,” San Carlos citizen Vanessa Nosie said on Tuesday in explaining the importance of protecting the land. “Our religion, our identity. It makes us who we are.”

But Oak Flat, which is located on federal forest land east of Phoenix, will be destroyed — permanently, Apache people point out — by a huge copper mine. Nosie said the proposed development is slated to be so large that it will leave a crater 7,000 feet below the surface of the place where her daughters took part in coming-of-age ceremonies.

“You can stick the Eiffel Tower inside the crater,” Nosie told students at a religious school in California.

Note: Video feed from the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals will go live at around 9:30am Pacific on October 22, 2021. The Oak Flat case, known as Apache Stronghold v. USA, is the sixth and final case to be heard during the session, at approximately 11:10am Pacific.

Nosie spoke as the Apache Stronghold, the group authorized by the tribe to advocate for Oak Flat, continued its journey from Arizona to California for another important event. On Friday, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals will hear arguments in a dispute that tribal citizens see as a warning sign for all Americans who believe in protecting sacred spaces.

“If one religion is attacked in this country, then all religions are attacked in this country,” Naelyn Pike, a young Apache leader, said at St. Ignatius College Preparatory in San Francisco on Tuesday.

The hearing, which is taking place at the federal courthouse in San Francisco, is part of a lawsuit that the Apache Stronghold filed against the federal government in early January, when Republican Donald Trump was still in office. Coming off the loss of the presidential election, his administration was rushing to transfer the land at Oak Flat to the foreign companies that plan to develop the Resolution Copper mine.

Despite the imminent threat, a federal judge in February refused to stop the pending land transfer. But the Apache people and their allies received a respite from new Democratic President Joe Biden, who ran on a campaign promise to ensure tribal nations are at the table when it comes to actions affecting their interests.

Indianz.Com Video: Save Oak Flat | Naelyn Pike | US Capitol

On March 1, the Biden administration put a stop to the environmental review process for the Oak Flat transfer. San Carlos Apache Chairman Terry Rambler called it the “right move” by the Department of Agriculture, which oversees the U.S. Forest Service, the federal agency in charge of the nation’s forest lands.

Even then, government attorneys have stuck to a familiar line of thought whenever tribes and their citizens try to protect sacred areas now managed by the United States. In a recent court filing, they reiterated who really is in charge of what happens at Oak Flat — and it’s not the Apache people.

“The government’s disposition of its own property cannot create a substantial burden on appellant’s members’ religious exercise,” the Department of Justice wrote on March 1, on the same day the Biden administration withdrew the final environmental impact statement (FEIS) and record of decision (ROD) for the copper project.

And although the Forest Service has reinitiated consultation with the San Carlos Apache Tribe and other Indian nations, government attorneys have no idea when talks will be complete, leaving people like Nosie and Pike in limbo for an indefinite amount of time.

“At this time, the United States cannot estimate how long the consultation process will take,” the March 1 filing stated, a copy of which was posted by Turtle Talk.

Oak FlatOak Flat is located within the boundaries of the Tonto National Forest in Arizona. Photo by Russ McSpadden / Courtesy Center for Biological Diversity

As the fight continues in the judicial and executive branches of the U.S. government, the tribe’s allies on Capitol Hill are trying to find a permanent solution. Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives have advanced legislation to permanently protect Oak Flat for future generations.

“We’re calling on Congress, because this decision affects everybody,” Wendsler Nosie Sr., a former chairman of the San Carlos Apache Tribe, said of the legislation, known as the Save Oak Flat Act.

“If they make the wrong choice, it will be devastating for those alive now and those yet to be born,” Nosie added. “It’s time that the American people stand up and hold our leaders accountable to do the right thing.”

John Mendez and Wendsler Nosie Sr Rev. John Mendez, left, and Dr. Wendsler Nosie Sr. are seen at Oak Flat in Arizona on October 10, 2021. Photo courtesy Apache Stronghold

Republican lawmakers, including those from Arizona, are vehemently opposed to the Save Oak Flat Act and its inclusion in the federal government’s budget reconciliation. So while the bill can pass the House, which is under Democratic control, chances are far slimmer in the U.S. Senate, where the parties are more evenly divided.

Chi’chil Biłdagoteel has been a sacred site for Indigenous people since time immemorial,” said Camilla Simon, executive director of Hispanics Enjoying Camping, Hunting and the Outdoors, one of the many allies in the fight. “Copper mining in this area would have caused irreparable harm to the lands and waters of the region and would have left another toxic legacy threatening the health and well-being of nearby communities.”

The Apache Stronghold caravan began its journey on October 9 at Oak Flat. The group visited several Indian nations in Arizona before arriving in southern California on October 16.

A prayer rally is being held on Wednesday afternoon at the San Francisco Federal Building. Another day of prayer is taking place on Thursday in the Bay Area city. Some of the stops, including the one at St. Ignatius College Preparatory, have been broadcast in the Protect Oak Flat club on Clubhouse, an audio-based social media platform.

The hearing in Apache Stronghold v. USA, No. 21-15295, is taking place during the Friday morning session of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco. The morning session starts at 9:30am Pacific, with the Oak Flat case the last to be heard. It’s anticipated that the hearing will start around 11:10am Pacific.

The 9th Circuit hears cases affecting hundreds of tribes in several western states so its decisions carry major impact. And while judges on the court are often sympathetic to Indian causes, their record on sacred sites is negative.

One significant case resulted in the federal government approving the use of reclaimed wastewater in the sacred San Francisco Peaks, also on federal forest land in Arizona. The decision in Navajo Nation v. U.S. Forest Service is repeatedly cited in the government’s briefs in the Oak Flat lawsuit.

Related Stories
House Committee on Natural Resources markup on budget reconciliation (September 2, 2021)
Cronkite News: Religious groups join fight to protect sacred Apache site (May 13, 2021)
Cronkite News: Bill to protect sacred Apache site debated on Capitol Hill (May 6, 2021)
House committee markup on Save Oak Flat Act and Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium Land Transfer Act (April 28, 2021)
Legislative Hearing on H.R.1884, the Save Oak Flat Act (April 13, 2021)
Bill to permanently protect sacred Apache site up for first hearing (April 8, 2021)
Advisory Council on Historic Preservation letter on sacred Apache site (March 29, 2021)
Bill introduced to protect sacred Apache site from development (March 15, 2021)
Cronkite News: Biden administration puts halt to mine at sacred Apache site (March 4, 2021)
San Carlos Apache Tribe cheers ‘right move’ to protect sacred site from copper mine (March 1, 2021)
Cronkite News: Deb Haaland shares her vision for Interior Department (March 1, 2021)
Cronkite News: Judge won’t stop copper mine on sacred Apache site (February 15, 2021)
Cronkite News: Apache Stronghold fights to protect sacred site from foreign mine (February 9, 2021)
Cronkite News: Republican pardoned in connection with Oak Flat land deal (January 21, 2021)

Football team including players from 3 First Nations wraps up 1st season

CBC ABORIGINAL NEWS - October 20, 2021 - 7:26pm
Xander Delorme

This has been the first year of football for Tasean Lavallee, but he already knows that he wants more.

Sask. Métis leader says he overcame his vaccine hesitancy after friend contracted COVID-19

CBC ABORIGINAL NEWS - October 20, 2021 - 7:18pm
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Leonard Montgrand, the minister for post-secondary education with the Métis Nation-Saskatchewan, says was hesitant to get his shots, until his best friend got COVID-19.

Native News Online Reporter Selected for USC Data Fellowship to Measure Intergenerational Effects of Boarding School Era

NATIVE NEWS ONLINE - October 20, 2021 - 6:05pm

The University of Southern California Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism’s Center for Health Journalism has selected Native News Online reporter Jenna Kunze, along with 19 other reporters, to participate in a data fellowship.

VPD moves to change handcuffing policy in response to Indigenous man and granddaughter detained at BMO

CBC ABORIGINAL NEWS - October 20, 2021 - 6:00pm

The Vancouver Police Board is seeking approval for changes to its handcuffing policy which include instructing officers to seek to maintain the dignity of the arrested, detained, or apprehended person and take the person's Indigeneity, race and age into consideration when doing so.

Huu-ay-aht First Nations seeks leave to intervene in Fairy Creek appeal

CBC ABORIGINAL NEWS - October 20, 2021 - 5:36pm
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The Huu-ay-aht First Nations is seeking leave to intervene in the Fairy Creek court appeal, following last month's decision to temporarily extend an injunction against old growth logging blockades on southern Vancouver Island.

Maui Challenges $1M Atty Fees In Water Pollution Suit

LAW360 (Native feed) - October 20, 2021 - 4:55pm
A nearly $1 million bill for attorney fees in a suit over whether a Hawaii wastewater treatment plant needs a Clean Water Act permit is much too high, Maui County has said in a bid to have those fees reduced.

Biden Administration Pauses Mineral Leasing In NE Minn.

LAW360 (Native feed) - October 20, 2021 - 4:53pm
The Biden administration said Wednesday it will hold off on any new mineral leasing in Northeast Minnesota's Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and surrounding watershed while the federal government studies potential mining impacts and gathers science and public input.

Phil Fontaine named Manitoba delegate to meet with Pope Francis about residential schools

CBC ABORIGINAL NEWS - October 20, 2021 - 4:34pm
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The former head of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs and Assembly of First Nations will represent the province in a meeting with the Pope at the Vatican in December.

Flatwater Free Press: Winnebago Tribe brings COVID-19 vaccine to community

INDIANZ.COM - October 20, 2021 - 4:22pm
Viola Rave LaPointe Viola Rave LaPointe receives her COVID-19 vaccine. The Winnebago Tribe has vaccinated more than 76 percent of its 12-and-older members. That’s a higher rate than any single county in Nebraska. Photo courtesy of Twelve Clans Unity Hospital
Nebraska’s poorest county is also its most vaccinated. Here’s why.
Nearly three-quarters of eligible residents in tiny Thurston County have been vaccinated, beating even the metro counties of Douglas and Lancaster, which both have vaccinated roughly 70 percent of eligible residents.[/by]
Wednesday, October 20, 2021
Flatwater Free Press

WINNEBAGO, Nebraska — On a muggy August afternoon, members of the Winnebago Tribe in northeast Nebraska gathered to clean heritage corn and dry it for the coming winter. Some will be given to relatives. Some will be used in soup to warm tribal members when the Nebraska weather turns brutally cold.

This return to the normal rhythms of Winnebago life feels deeply satisfying to tribal members like Keely Purcell. A year ago, Purcell sat lonely in her Iowa living room, staying home, working hard to keep her immunocompromised husband and young children safe.

Now she’s cleaning corn in this shed and laughing with her friend Elaine Rice, who is like an auntie to her, a de facto relative in the way that tribe is family to many Indigenous people.

Purcell, Rice and many other tribal members feel comfortable in the shed for a simple reason: Nearly everyone here is vaccinated. As Nebraska struggles to get its rural residents vaccinated, Native Americans living in rural places here have gotten jabbed at extremely high rates.

Case in point: 76 percent of Winnebago Tribe members 12 and older are now fully vaccinated, according to the Twelve Clans Unity Hospital. The nearby Omaha Tribe has 75 percent of its eligible members fully vaxxed, including nearly every tribal employee, said Sarah Rowland, director of Macy’s Curtis Health Center.

Those numbers are markedly higher than the United States as a whole, and stunningly higher than any single other rural Nebraska spot. Most rural Nebraska communities have vaccinated between a third and a half of their eligible residents, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data.

The vaccination push by the Winnebago and Omaha tribes, whose reservations border one another in rural northeast Nebraska, has led to an eye-opening fact: Tiny Thurston County, by far the poorest county in Nebraska, is also its most vaccinated.

Nearly three-quarters of eligible residents have been vaccinated there as of October 6, beating even the metro counties of Douglas and Lancaster, which both have vaccinated roughly 70 percent of eligible residents.

An inborn sense of community and family, as well as an intensely local education push, have driven large numbers of tribal members to embrace the vaccines.

“When smallpox came around, we didn’t have anything to protect us. We didn’t know,” Purcell said, referencing the virus that killed as many as 90 percent of Native Americans in the decades after traders and settlers brought it here. “But, this time, in the middle of all this, knowing that the virus could kill our people, we have a vaccine. Take it.”

Keely Purcell Keely Purcell helps a friend clean corn during harvest. Purcell moved her family back to the Winnebago Reservation this year after all her family members received shots at the tribal clinic. Photo by Tim Trudell / Flatwater Free Press

Tribal support for vaccination has been strong both because of 21st century technology and an age-old respect for tribal elders and community safety, tribal members say.

Mona Zuffante, the tribe’s public health director, co-hosted weekly Facebook Live presentations starting early in the pandemic, sharing vital information as tribal officials continued to learn more about the virus.

“We watched the news. We saw the stories about the cruise ships. We knew it was coming. We’re not an island. It’s coming here. It started on the coasts and would be here,” Zuffante said.

Emmy Scott and her brother Aaron Scott took it upon themselves to help tribal officials by providing their own social media updates. With more than 6,600 followers on Twitter, Emmy Scott shared Winnebago updates, such as mask mandate information and status on isolation and quarantine.

“Since I knew that most younger people followed me on Twitter, I thought I’d share information that way,” she said.

Emmy Scott and Aaron Scott Siblings Emmy and Aaron Scott worked to provide COVID-19 and vaccination updates and address peoples’ concerns on social media. Photo by Tim Trudell / Flatwater Free Press

The tribe also reverted to tried-and-true ways to get its message out. Tribal leaders sent paper fliers to elders, and put them in children’s lunch bags.

As COVID-19 spread through Nebraska, both the Winnebago and Omaha implemented actions to mitigate its impact on the reservations. The tribes mandated facemasks. They quickly shut down schools, eventually moving to virtual learning. Businesses closed temporarily, and employees started working from home. In May 2020, the tribal town of Macy put in checkpoints at all four of its entrances and enforced a curfew from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. to control the virus’ spread.

The checkpoints were removed this spring; the curfew revoked. Both communities’ schools have returned to in-school learning.

In Winnebago, the sense of family and community helped contain the spread of Covid, Zuffante said, leading to lower death rates than elsewhere in Nebraska. Still, Winnebago lost five people to Covid-related deaths, while the Omaha Tribe suffered at least eight deaths.

“When you’d see your uncle walking down the street, you’d go, ‘Hmmm, what’s he doing out there?’” she said.

In one case, it was an elder on his way to pick up mail. “Getting your mail? Give me those keys. The tribe will get your mail,” she said.

Once vaccines became available to both tribes in December, health officials prioritized who would receive the first shots. Elders, language keepers and culture leaders were first in line, along with healthcare workers and first responders.

Following a prayer ceremony, the Winnebago clinic started to administer their first doses. Zuffante, who is also an EMT, was among the first to receive the vaccine.

“We were able to show its (safety),” she said. “We could say we had all the side effects and we’re OK. It helped a lot with people.”

Hospital staff and tribal leaders decided to move vaccinations from the cramped clinic to the spacious school gymnasium where, starting Jan. 6, they offered jabs each Wednesday.

“We had 120 people that first day,” Zuffante said.

There, they vaccinated an average of 150 people each week through the spring and early summer until almost every adult was vaccinated. More recently, they have moved vaccination back to the clinic, where they still average about 25 newly vaccinated people per week.

Mona Zuffante Mona Zuffante, the Winnebago Tribe’s public health director. The tribe has taken serious steps to try to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. It reinstated its mask mandate upon learning of the highly contagious Delta variant. Photo by Tim Trudell / Flatwater Free Press

The elders showed the importance of the vaccine to Winnebago, she said. At one of the tribe’s first clinics, one woman worried that she was too old to get the vaccine, Zuffante said. But she decided to go through with it, because she wanted to hold her baby granddaughter after not being able to hold her for most of 2020.

At another mass clinic, Zuffante watched the elders who had been vaccinated earlier in the day lingering together in a corner of the gym. The senior center was still closed. Some hadn’t spoken in months.

“It was so powerful, because you could tell how much they missed each other…I asked a nurse how long she told them they had to stay after receiving their shots. ‘15 minutes,’ she said. What time was that? ‘An hour. I was going to kick them out.’

Nah, Zuffante said. Leave them be.

“It was the safest place for them to be. They hugged. Some of them were six feet apart and yelling at one another. It was nice to see it.”

Tribal members realized the value of vaccinations outweighed the ills of history, Zuffante said.

“Historically, we’ve really gone through so much with our people, from smallpox to always being the last ones to get anything,” she said. “And, I think, even given that, then we were among the first in line for vaccines, and we’re like, ‘Ok what’s going on here?’ But, it kind of reminded people that things are changing.

“It affected us so much. I’ve never experienced where I couldn’t go to college, or go to religious ceremonies. Or even be around family. We were all in the same boat. We’re a resilient people, and we’ve gone through all these things up to this point.”

Winnebago Tribe: Winnebago Covid-19 Community Update

Tribal leaders are continuing a push to get their vaccination numbers even higher.

After having had to cancel the public portion of Winnebago’s annual Homecoming Celebration powwow in 2020 because of the pandemic, the tribe required everyone participating and attending this year’s event to show proof of vaccination. The Omaha tribe also hosted its August powwow with a mask mandate and social distance requirements. Both events proved successful. And safe.

“Not a single case of Covid was connected to the powwow,” Zuffante said.

Non-Native communities may be better served by embracing the Winnebago and Omaha concept of family and community, Purcell said.

“This may sound cheesy, but it’s safer here than it is in cities,” she said. “…People talk about strong community. Here, we know who we can depend on. Out there, that might be your neighbor you wave to, but it’s not your cousin. That’s not your auntie. That’s not your auntie’s best friend, or grandma who lives down the street. We have that here. We have not lost our tribal community. You’re mine. I’m yours.”

Purcell’s own life started to return to some version of normal when she received a call from the reservation earlier this year. The tribe had two doses of the Pfizer vaccine available for her family. Could she come, now?

Purcell and her 25-year-old son Dylan jumped in the family car and sped three hours to the Twelve Clans Unity Hospital. Eventually her entire family, including her white husband, received their vaccines from the tribe.

And, after enduring more than a year isolated from the tribe, the Purcell family made another COVID-19-inspired decision. This summer, they packed their belongings in Iowa and moved back to the reservation. Because, more than ever, Winnebago feels like home.

“”I missed this last year,” Purcell says as she sits in a shed, shucking corn and laughing with the lifelong pals she regards as loved ones. “There’s something special about corn season. Sitting here, with friends and family, I missed this.”

Tim Trudell is a freelance writer based in Omaha and an enrolled member of the Santee Dakota Tribe. Trudell has co-written three books with his wife Lisa. Together they run a travel blog, Trudell has also written for outlets such as The Omaha World-Herald, Omaha Magazine, Nebraska Magazine and Living Here Midwest.

The Flatwater Free Press is Nebraska’s first independent, nonprofit newsroom focused on investigations and feature stories that matter. This story is published here under a Creative Commons license (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0).


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