News Wrap: Coronavirus toll on Indian Country; Judge cancels key Keystone XL permit; and more

In this blog:

  • Videos: The coronavirus toll on Indian Country, interviews with Native leaders
  • Judge cancels key Keystone XL permit, Native Nations press to stop construction due to coronavirus dangers
  • Montana passes law that makes it harder for Native Americans to vote
  • Nonprofit Quarterly series lifts up Native American voices, highlighting environmental justice issues in Indian Country and how philanthropy could more effectively support Native-led work

Videos: The coronavirus toll on Indian Country, interviews with Native leaders

On Friday, PBS ran a 17-minute interview with Minnesota Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan, on the coronavirus’ impact on Native communities. Flanagan’s brother died recently from COVID-19. Among other things, Flanagan noted that Native nations with casinos and other gaming have lost revenue, just like other businesses in the state, and they lack resources to address the pandemic. The recently passed state legislation to help communities respond to the coronavirus included $11 million for grants to tribal nations.

On April 9, C-SPAN ran a half-hour interview with National Indian Health Board chair Victoria Kitcheyan about the disproportionate harm the pandemic has done to Indian Country, and her organization’s response.

Judge cancels key Keystone XL permit, Native Nations press to stop construction due to coronavirus dangers

A Judge cancelled a key Keystone XL permit last week. According to a Star Tribune report:

Judge Brian Morris said the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers failed to adequately consider effects on endangered species such as pallid sturgeon, a massive, dinosaur-like fish that lives in rivers the pipeline would cross.

The ruling, however, does not shut down work that has begun at the U.S.-Canada border crossing in Montana, according to attorneys in the case. Pipeline sponsor TC Energy will need the permit for future construction across hundreds of rivers and streams along Keystone’s 1,200-mile (1,930-kilometer) route.

Also last week, the AP reported that Native Nations and environmental groups were pressuring a federal judge to shut down work on the Keystone XL pipeline, “citing fears that workers could spread the coronavirus and construction could damage land.”

They warned that plans to build construction camps housing up to 1,000 workers each pose a risk to tribes and rural communities that already struggle to provide basic health care services and would face challenges responding to coronavirus outbreaks.

Montana passes law that makes it harder for Native Americans to vote

The Native American Rights Fund is pushing back against a new Montana law with the euphemistic title “Ballot Interference Prevention Act” (BIPA). The law makes it a crime to collect mail-in ballots from friends and other community members to make sure they get into the mail.

“Native communities use get-out-the-vote drives to collect ballots and take them to distant elections offices,” said an email from the Native American Rights Fund. “For those with limited access to transportation or postal services, it is the only way that they are able to vote. … BIPA restricts who can collect ballots and allows organizers to submit only six ballots each. Bringing ballots to the post office for relatives or neighbors could result in fines from $500 to $50,000.”

“BIPA ignores the everyday realities that face Native American communities. It is not reasonable to expect voters to drive an hour to drop off their ballot, so collecting ballots in reservation communities just makes sense. Criminalizing dropping off ballots for fellow community members is unfair to Native American voters and does nothing to solve the real problem of mail not being picked up and delivered to Native homes.”

The Native American Rights Fund is trying to get the law overturned, filing suit on behalf of five nations—the Assiniboine & Sioux Tribes of Fort Peck, Blackfeet Nation, Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes of the Flathead Reservation, Crow Tribe, and Fort Belknap Indian Community.

Nonprofit Quarterly series lifts up Native American voices, highlighting environmental justice issues in Indian Country and how philanthropy could more effectively support Native-led work

Nonprofit Quarterly worked with the First Nations Development Institute to publish a series of articles by Native leaders who are on the frontlines to addressing the critical environmental challenges of our day.

The series is based on the understanding that:

  • Environmental justice is not a new idea in Native communities
  • Native communities have long been on the frontlines fighting against environmental racism and promoting environmental justice
  • Economic context is important to understand environmental justice in Native communities.
  • There is a lack of philanthropic investment in Native-led change, and
  • Environmental and climate justice cannot happen without including Native voices

The third article in the series is headlined: Our Bodies Are the Front Lines: Responding to Land-Based Gender Violence, written by Annita Lucchesi, a water protector, environmentalist, land defender — and an Indigenous survivor of trafficking. She writes:

While it has long been acknowledged by Indigenous peoples that violence against our lands is deeply tied to violence against Indigenous people (especially women and girls), the world outside our communities still largely sees the fight to protect the environment and the fight to protect women and girls as two separate battles.

But this siloed approach does not reflect our realities. Philanthropy, if it wishes to support us, must understand how land-based gender and sexual violence affects Indigenous peoples and why the struggles to preserve our land and our bodies are two faces of the same struggle.

Other articles from the series available online are:

 

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