But, we’re keeping our excitement in check: while Deb is a fierce advocate for Native people, she also represents the United States government in her role as Secretary of the Interior. We are curious to see the extent to which Deb is able to push back against the federal structures and systems that so often work against Native nations.
The six Indigenous House members elected in 2020 are split evenly across party lines. All of these Indigenous elected officials, regardless of their political affiliation, will contribute toward making Tribal sovereignty more visible, and possibly more respected, on a national level.
[We’d also like to put in a plug for our Rebuilders elected at a variety of levels in 2020, including Kevin Killer and Lyz Jaakola, who are sure to make sovereignty more visible.]
Why would Standing Rock choose to vaccinate language speakers first? They’re prioritizing future thinking in their leadership, believing in the value of protecting their culture for future generations. They’re also listening to science: the vast majority of Lakota and Dakota language speakers are elders, meaning that they’re part of a high-risk COVID-19 group.
Throughout 2020, Native nations demonstrated a commitment to future-oriented, strategic response strategies to protect their citizens from COVID-19. The Indigenous language speaker vaccination program is just one example. We expect this trend to continue in 2021 and into the future.
In 2020, our organization had many conversations with elected Tribal leaders about the challenges and pressure to spend CARES Act funding by the original deadline. Some of these challenges included the delay in receiving the funds from the federal government and the often complicated and burdensome bureaucratic processes that come with spending federal funding.
We are glad to see that the federal government moved to extend the CARES Act expenditure deadline. Our program manager, Apryl Deel-McKenzie, notes, “This decision acknowledges the work of the many Native nations and their leaders who advocated for the extension. It allows Native nations to continue spending the much-needed resources to protect and support their citizens in a strategic way against COVID-19.”
While the extension is a welcome move, the government’s late decision to extend the timeframe created unnecessary uncertainty for funding recipients. Many Native nations have already expended their funds. The delayed decision on the extension caused some nations to prioritize speed over strategy in order to ensure that they didn’t lose out on any of their funding. Challenges aside, we look forward to watching Native nations continue to make innovative decisions in 2021 to ensure a vibrant future for their citizens.