- By Levi Rickert
Opinion. The end of a year brings back memories of the events that transpired during the course of the past 365 days. It also provides a time to look forward to possibilities.
As with the rest of the world, 2020 has proven to be a tumultuous and memorable year in Indian Country.
Covid-19 hit American Indians and Alaska Natives hard from the outset of the pandemic. Within weeks of the first reported Covid-19 cases in the United States, the virus hit Indian Country. The first case reported on the nation’s largest Indian reservation, the Navajo Nation, came on March 17. At one point, the Navajo Nation’s infection rate on a per capita basis was one of worst in the United States.
Beyond the human suffering from the deadly virus, the pandemic put a severe strain on tribal funding throughout Indian County due to the voluntary closures of tribal gaming facilities that resulted in a decrease of $11 billion in casino and hospitality revenue. This is important because revenue from tribal gaming provides much-needed funds for services to tribal citizens, such as health care, elderly care, housing and education.
The pandemic even negatively impacted the 2020 Census count in Indian Country. Historically, Indian Country shows an undercount in census counts due to distrust of the federal government and tribes being located in remote areas. During the 2020 Census, the undercount was compounded because of the emphasis to contain the spread of the deadly virus in tribal communities. The census undercounts result in reduced funds going to tribes because federal funds are predicated on census counts.
As the year comes to an end, there is a real sadness throughout Indian Country because of those lost to Covid-19, other diseases and tragedies. From the over 800 family members lost to Covid on the Navajo Nation to the families of 20 fluent Cherokee language speakers who died as the result of Covid-19, tribal communities are feeling the pain of loss. This week the Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate is mourning the loss of former Tribal Chairman Robert Shepherd, who passed away on Sunday morning from injuries sustained in an automobile accident last week. He was 45.
While we have lost many of our brothers and sisters in the year 2020 to the scourges of Covid-19, addiction and violence, our history as Native people proves we are resilient and survivors. Once referred to as the vanishing Indian, thankfully many of our ancestors survived genocidal practices aimed to wipe out our tribal nations.
With the close of 2020, we look for brighter hope in 2021.
The nomination of Rep. Deb Haaland (D-N.M.) by President-elect Joe Biden to be the secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior has provided a glimmer of hope for better relations between the federal government and Indian Country. She is the first ever American Indian nominated to serve in a presidential cabinet. While no one person cannot possibly be a cure-all for centuries of mistreatment of tribal nations by the federal government, Haaland sitting at the cabinet table will bring Indian Country’s worldview that has been lacking at the highest level of government.
Native News Online wishes all of our readers a prosperous and Happy New Year!
Celebrating 10 years of Native News...
We launched Native News Online back in February 2011 with the belief that everyone in Indian Country deserves equal access to news and commentary pertaining to them, their relatives and their communities. That's why the story you’ve just finished was free — and we want to keep it that way, for all readers. We hope it inspires you to celebrate our first decade with a gift of $10 or more to Native News Online so that we can continue publishing more stories that make a difference to Native people, whether they live on or off the reservation. Your donation will help us keep producing quality journalism and elevating Indigenous voices. Any contribution of any amount — big or small — gives us a better, stronger future and allows us to remain a force for change. Donate to Native News Online today and support independent Indigenous journalism. Thank you.