News: MN Supreme Court upholds Bde Maka Ska name change, Alberta tar sands workers spread COVID-19, and more

In this blog:

  • Minnesota Supreme Court upholds Bde Maka Ska name change
  • Tar sands workers in Alberta spread COVID-19
  • Pandemic closes casinos, causing economic harm in Indian Country
  • Pine Ridge locks down after first two confirmed COVID-19 cases found

Minnesota Supreme Court upholds Bde Maka Ska name change

Bde Maka Ska (Photo: Bjoertvedt, courtesy of Wikipedia.)

The Minnesota Supreme Court ruled today in a 5-2 vote that the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources didn’t overstep its authority in restoring the Dakota name Bde Maka Ska to the former Lake Calhoun, a name chosen in the 19th century to honor former vice president, a South Carolina Senator, and a slavery advocate.

In a statement Wednesday, Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison said the Calhoun name was removed to “to alleviate the pain of that history and celebrate instead the dignity of those who originally named the lake,” according to the Star Tribune article:

“I’m very pleased that the Supreme Court’s ruling confirms that we have a reliable mechanism for renaming places that evoke or celebrate racist parts of our past,” Ellison said. “We now have a sure way to reflect our values today and to pass along the state we want our children to inherit tomorrow.”

Tar sands workers in Alberta spread COVID-19

Alberta failed to contain a coronavirus outbreak in a tar sands camp and that led to the disease spreading to British Columbia, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Labrador. It’s resulted in 106 known cases, according to a story in Canada’s National Observer. These tar sands worker cases also are tied to an outbreak in a remote northern Saskatchewan Dene village that killed two elders.

“There’s absolutely no doubt that the Alberta government’s decision to not close down the camps, or at least put constraints on fly-in and fly-out operations, has cost lives,” said Alberta Federation of Labour president Gil McGowan, who wrote to the provincial government in April to ask for restrictions on fly-in, fly-out work. (The federation is an association of 29 unions.)

This gives credence to concerns expressed in Indian Country here in the United States that pipeline projects should not be allowed to proceed during the pandemic as the influx of workers could help spread the disease.

The AP reported last month 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…”

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.

Pandemic closes casinos, threatening Indian Country economy

A New York Times story Monday ran under the headline: Tribal Nations Face Most Severe Crisis in Decades as the Coronavirus Closes Casinos. It said:

Tribal nations around the United States are facing their most severe crisis in decades as they grapple simultaneously with some of the deadliest coronavirus outbreaks in rural America and the economic devastation caused by the protracted shutdown of nearly 500 tribally owned casinos.

The Navajo Nation, the country’s largest Indian reservation, now has a higher death rate than any U.S. state except New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Massachusetts.

Oglala Sioux Tribe (Pine Ridge) locks down after first two confirmed coronavirus cases reported

“The Oglala Sioux Tribe ordered a reservation-wide shutdown Monday night, after learning two residents had tested positive for COVID-19, representing the first confirmed cases among its citizens,” according to a story in IndianZ. The order was expected to expire today, when the Tribal Council was scheduled to take up the issue.

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