Tribes Take Measures to Slow Spread of Coronavirus

By Felicia Fonseca, Associated Press

(Editor’s Note: The following three articles are former lead stories. NAT’s Breaking News section is regularly updating information relevant to the Covid-19 pandemic.)


There are 574 federally recognized tribes, 229 presiding in Alaska. Many successfully manage their health care systems. 

Sharon Bahe has made her home on the Navajo Nation a refuge, placing cedar branches and burning sage to help purify the space and praying for protection for herself and her children home from boarding school and a toddler with severe asthma.

Her community of about 500 in northern Arizona has become a hot spot for the new Coronavirus, with several cases confirmed. While other kids play outside, she tells hers they can't “until the virus goes away.”

Officials on the Navajo Nation, the largest Native American reservation, broadened a stay-at-home order from Chilchinbeto to the entire reservation: No visitors in, and residents can't leave their homes except for essential tasks, including to get food and medical supplies.

The order is among the strictest yet in Indian Country, though tribes across the U.S. for weeks have been preparing amid worries that the outbreak could quickly overwhelm a chronically underfunded health care system and affect a population that suffers disproportionately from cancer, diabetes and some respiratory diseases.

They've shut down casinos, hotels and tourist destinations — often their primary revenue sources — and reminded citizens of the resiliency of their ancestors.

“Tribes are really just big families in a lot of ways," said Matthew Fletcher, a law professor at Michigan State University. "The threats to your family are something you're going to take seriously.”

Matthew Fletcher is a Professor of Law at Michigan State University College of Law, and Director of the Indigenous Law and Policy Center. (Photo Credit: National Public Radio)

Tribal elders, revered for their knowledge and cultural guidance, are the biggest concern, and outreach and other efforts are underway on the Navajo Nation, which spans three states in the U.S. Southwest. Many families there live miles apart in homes that hold multiple generations but can lack electricity, running water and reliable internet.

For most people, the Coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms. But for the elderly and people with existing conditions, it can cause more severe illness. The vast majority of those who are infected recover.

A federal funding package in response to the virus included $40 million for tribes for epidemiology, public health preparedness, infection control, education and other things.

But the money hasn't reached tribes because there's no mechanism for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to get it to the Indian Health Service, the agency responsible for providing primary medical care to Native Americans. Tribes and tribal organizations run some hospitals and clinics under federal contract.

Dean Seneca, a member of the Seneca nation who has worked more than 18 years in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Center for State, Tribal, Local and Territorial Support, told Indian Country Today that tribal epidemiology centers did not have the capacity to track the disease. (Photo Credit: UB Today)

“Everyone is on high alert right now. They're waiting, they're asking us,” said Stacy Bohlen, Executive Director of the National Indian Health Board who is from the Sault Sainte Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians.

In the meantime, tribes are taking action to slow the spread of the virus.

In South Dakota, Oglala Sioux Tribe President Julian Bear Runner prohibited church groups from bringing volunteers to help repair homes on tribal land. The Rosebud Sioux Tribe canceled about 300 spring turkey and prairie dog hunting permits for non-tribal members.

In Montana, the Northern Cheyenne and the Crow tribes enacted a 10 p.m. curfew, partly to ensure law enforcement isn't bogged down, and restricted movement on and off their land. They also asked residents who attended hugely popular basketball tournaments off the reservation to self-quarantine.

The Bay Mills Indian Community has special hours for the elderly at a grocery store on the densely populated reservation in northern Michigan and a gas station with full service to limit exposure to the pumps, said tribal Chairman Bryan Newland.

It also is among tribes nationwide that have closed casinos and is paying its 400 employees. The National Indian Gaming Association has asked Congress for at least $18 billion in federal aid over six months to address shortfalls from closing casinos, which tribes depend on because they don't have a property tax base.

For others, it's tourism, but those operations, too, are shutting down. They include Monument Valley on the Navajo Nation and the famed blue-green waterfalls of the Havasupai reservation in northern Arizona.

 Waterfalls of the Havasupai Reservation (Photo Credit: Wikipedia)

Monument Valley (Photo Credit: Pinterest)

Tribal leaders say all tribes are at risk but some face unique situations. Of the country's 574 federally recognized tribes, 229 are in Alaska where supplies must be flown in or shipped on barges. Kevin Allis, chief executive of the National Congress of American Indians, said that could expose isolated Alaska Native villages and create a disaster.

The villages have clinics, but residents must travel to regional hubs or farther for serious medical issues.

“This is a very scary situation for them,” Allis said.

Some health care clinics and hospitals that serve Native Americans have closed or scaled back services to focus on the Coronavirus. Community health representatives on the Navajo Nation have been driving long distances to people's homes to teach them about the virus and what to do if they exhibit symptoms.

They're using a new Navajo phrase that translates to “a step above the big illness,” said Mae-gilene Begay, who oversees the program.

The Navajo Nation had at least 14 confirmed cases as of Friday evening. Others have been confirmed at health care facilities for Native Americans in the Portland, Oregon, area and in the Great Plains. The Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma said one of its citizens has died from COVID-19.

Bills in Congress seek to create parity for tribes, giving them direct access to a federal drug repository and gear if they exhaust their supplies, and the ability to apply directly to the CDC for a health emergency preparedness program. A federal funding package gives $64 million to IHS.

But Democratic U.S. Sen. Tom Udall of New Mexico said that "can't be the end of the work.”

Bahe was busy getting supplies to stay home for the long term. Her children kept themselves occupied on electronic devices while she stressed frequent hand-washing and general cleanliness. She said she already had enough oxygen and medication for her toddler.

“I was telling my kids we have to keep doing what we're doing because we're not sick yet,” she said.

Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez declared a public health state of emergency on March 11, two days before the Administration announced a national state of emergency. He stated, “We call upon our Navajo people to stay home and remain calm to prevent the spread of the virus among our communities,” said Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez in a release. “We also ask the public to be vigilant and respectful of first responders, health care workers, and emergency management officials who are responding to these cases. Please continue to pray for these individuals, their families, and all of the people of our Nation as we get through this together.”

Navajo Nation President Nez urged tribal members to listen to authorities and leadership throughout the crisis. (Photo Credit: Navajo Nation, Office of the President and Vice President )

Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez wore a mask and gloves while addressing tribal lawmakers. He said the tribe was preparing food packages for elders and will take over all billboards on the 27,000-square-mile (69,930-square-kilometer) reservation to enforce CDC guidelines. It's also considering roadblocks.

President Nez presiding over a recent Tribal Council meeting. (Photo Credit: Navajo Times)

“I love you, Navajo Nation, but please listen to authorities, leadership when they say, ‘Stay home,’” he said. “That's the best way to fight this virus.”

The Indian Health Service is talking weekly with tribes to keep them informed. The agency said all of its facilities can swab patients for COVID-19, though supplies are depleted nationwide, and testing is done at outside labs. Chief medical Officer Michael Toedt highlighted a drive-up testing location in northwestern New Mexico and the replacement of office visits with calls and video conferencing.

Newland and other tribal leaders said they're still not assured they will get needed resources that should be guaranteed through acts of Congress and treaties with the U.S. from generations ago.

“What we really want to know is where can we get our test kits, where do we get economic relief, and we want information as close to real time as possible about how closely we are affected in terms of concerned cases,” Newland said. “Other than that, we can figure it out.”

“I love you, Navajo Nation, but please listen to authorities, leadership when they say, ‘Stay home,’” he said. “That's the best way to fight this virus.”

The Indian Health Service is talking weekly with tribes to keep them informed. The agency said all of its facilities can swab patients for COVID-19, though supplies are depleted nationwide, and testing is done at outside labs. Chief medical Officer Michael Toedt highlighted a drive-up testing location in northwestern New Mexico and the replacement of office visits with calls and video conferencing.

Newland and other tribal leaders said they're still not assured they will get needed resources that should be guaranteed through acts of Congress and treaties with the U.S. from generations ago.

“What we really want to know is where can we get our test kits, where do we get economic relief, and we want information as close to real time as possible about how closely we are affected in terms of concerned cases,” Newland said. “Other than that, we can figure it out.”

Associated Press writers Stephen Groves in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, Paul Davenport in Phoenix and Rachel D'Oro in Anchorage, Alaska, contributed to this report. Fonseca is a member of the AP's Race and Ethnicity team. Follow her on Twitter at


Felicia Fonseca is a correspondent for the Associated Press, and her works have been published worldwide. Based in Arizona, she studies and writes about Native American tribes and their efforts to build sustainable economies.

Lead Story Image: Web MD

To learn more about Native American health programs and organizations, visit Native America Today’s Community Resources Section.

Native American Tribe Takes Trailblazing Steps to Fight Covid-19 Outbreak

By Nina Lakhani, The Guardian

The Lummi Nation, a sovereign Native American tribe in the Pacific north-west, will soon open a pioneering field hospital to treat Coronavirus patients, as part of a wave of strong public health measures which have gone further than many world governments.

Tribal leaders have been preparing for Covid-19 since the virus first appeared in Wuhan, China, in late 2019, with medical staff beefing up emergency plans, reorganizing services and gathering medical supplies, including test kits and personal protective equipment.

The Lummi reservation is located in Whatcom county – 115 miles north of Seattle, Washington, where the first US Covid-19 case was confirmed in January, followed by the first death in February.

So far, the tribe has reported three Covid-19 cases, but expect numbers to rise as the pandemic progresses.

“We quickly recognized the need to make sacrifices for the greater good, in order to protect our people and the wider community,” said Dr. Dakotah Lane, medical director of the tribal health service, who is in strict self-quarantine after coming into contact with a Covid-19 patient.

Dr. Dakotah Lane (pictured above) in self-quarantine. (Photo Credit: Alan Berner / The Seattle Times)

As the Trump administration was weighing options, the tribe swiftly introduced mitigation and prevention measures such as social distancing, drive-through testing, telemedicine clinics, and a home delivery service for the elderly.

The tribal council declared a state of emergency on 3 March – 10 days before the Administration did the same – and approved $1m to prepare and respond for the evolving pandemic, which includes setting up the hospital.

A community fitness center, located next to the tribe’s health clinic, has been re-purposed into a makeshift hospital, with beds, protective gear and other essential equipment in place. It will open once the pharmacy is fully stocked. The 20-bed hospital will treat less critical inpatients, in order to free up intensive care units in nearby facilities, and prioritize Native Americans from any tribe.

“Our unique approach has piqued a lot of state and federal interest, we’re offering them a different model which shows that tribes are part of the solution in recovery efforts,” said the tribal chairman, Lawrence Solomon. “No private organization is going to try what we’re doing.”

Lummi Nation Tribal Chairman Lawrence Solomon reports the Lummis have created a health model that demonstrates tribes are part of the solution. (Photo Credit: Lummi Nation)

The tribe’s proactive response to the evolving global pandemic has been possible thanks to vast improvements to the quality and capacity of its community healthcare system over the past decade.

Like an increasing number of tribes, the Lummi Nation has opted for “self-determination” which enables greater financial flexibility and clinical autonomy – as opposed to depending on the federally controlled Indian Health Service (IHS) which has suffered decades of severe under-funding.

As a result, the Lummi Health Services raises substantial revenue by treating patients on Medicaid and Medicare – the third party billing program created by the Affordable Care Act in 2010. This extra cash has allowed them to invest in infrastructure and build capacity: the tribe now has eight doctors compared with just three in 2013, including three physicians with public health expertise.

A patient being cared for at an Indian Health Service facility. (Photo Credit: Pinterest)

CDC modeling suggests that anywhere between 2.4 million and 21 million people in the US could require hospitalization during the course of the pandemic, potentially overwhelming the hospital system.

The Lummi want to help. Dr Lane said: “The Lummi believe in controlling our own destiny. We don’t count on help reaching us, but the hospital is something we can do to help the community.”


Nina Lakhani is a British freelance journalist reporting from Central America and Mexico for The Daily Beast, The Guardian, BBC, Al Jazeera, Global Post and The Telegraph. In London, she worked for the Independent and Independent and Sunday. Before journalism, Nina was a mental health nurse. She can be found on Twitter@ninalakhani

To learn more about Native American health programs and organizations, visit Native America Today’s Community Resources Section.

Tribal Programs That Prepare for Public Health Crises Readying for Coronavirus


The Shoalwater Bay Reservation in southwest Washington is right on the Pacific Ocean. It's small and isolated, with about 100 residents, one gas station, and a small casino.

Kim Thompson is the tribe's Health Director. As she gave a tour of the clinic recently, she said they're not ready for novel Coronavirus cases yet — but they're trying to get there.

"This is where we have it set up so patients can come in through this back door," avoiding contact with other patients, she said.

Thompson said the clinic will soon be able to take swabs from patients and send them off to a commercial lab to test for the novel Coronavirus.

"We haven't set up the gowns or everything yet, since we don't have all the testing materials yet," she added.

Kim Thompson (pictured above) is Health Director of the Shoalwater Bay Tribe. Thompson said the clinic will take swabs from patients and send them to a commercial lab for testing. (Photo Credit: KUOW)

Across the country, public health workers on Native reservations are scrambling to prepare for COVID-19. In South Dakota, an Indian Health Service clinic confirmed a case. And, in Washington state, one of those who died at the hard-struck nursing home in Kirkland was a member of the Cowlitz Indian Tribe. But tribes are expecting much worse to come, and they're trying to get ready.

At Shoalwater Bay, Thompson said getting supplies and the money to pay for them has been difficult.

"Funding is a unique challenge," she explained. "We have a budget that we're allotted every year by Indian Health Services. And, when that money runs out, we have to count on our third-party revenue" — that is, payments from insurance companies.

"The smaller tribes are the most hit," said Vicki Lowe, the director of Washington state's American Indian Health Commission, and a descendant of the Jamestown S'Klallam Tribe.

She said many tribal programs that prepare for public health emergencies like this one are strapped.

Some rely on less than $5,000 a year.

"So, when there's an outbreak, an emergency like this, it just stretches them even thinner," she said.

To avoid spreading the novel Coronavirus, some tribes are closing their casinos. Others are enacting rigorous cleaning procedures.

"If [tribes] have to shut down a business, they might lose some of their cash flow to help fund their [public health] staff," Lowe said.

The Indian Health Service is distributing additional Coronavirus funding, but it works out to only about $70,000 per tribe, and smaller tribes could get much less than that.

The American Indian Health Commission in Washington state was created in 1994 by federally recognized tribes, Urban Indian health organizations, and other Indian organizations to provide a forum for addressing tribal-state health issues. The Commission’s mission is to improve the health of AI/AN people through tribal-state collaboration on health policies and programs that will help decrease disparities.  They work on behalf of the 29 federally-recognized Tribes and 2 Urban Indian Health Organizations in the state.

Experts say that's a drop in the bucket compared to what's needed to pay for testing kits and for personal protective equipment for health care workers. And isolating and caring for infected community members will also require resources.

Lowe said, in some ways, Washington state's 29 tribes are better positioned than tribes in other states to respond to an emergency like this one, because of work the state's American Indian Health Commission has done.

In 2009, some local health jurisdictions didn't distribute tribes' allotments of H1N1 vaccines and antivirals to the tribes. Since then, the AIHC has worked to strengthen relationships between local health jurisdictions and tribes so they can coordinate effectively during public health emergencies.

But big obstacles remain.

Beyond funding, Lowe said, another challenge for tribes is that many of their members are medically vulnerable.

"American Indians and Alaska Natives do suffer from higher cardiovascular disease, asthma," she said.

"Those chronic diseases make them at higher risk if they do contract the virus," she added.

"And we could imagine a situation where every speaker of a language could pass away," said Tony Johnson, chairman of the Chinook Tribe, just next door to Shoalwater Bay.

"The fluent first language speakers of the languages of the Pacific Northwest are basically all in the demographic that is at really high risk," he said.

Johnson said memories of smallpox are also putting Native people on edge during this new pandemic.

"We live in a community where not very long ago more than 90% of our community died from imported disease," he said.

Chinook Tribal Chairman Tony Johnson. The Chinooks are just next door to the Shoalwater Bay Reservation. (Photo Credit: The Astorian)

Johnson said he wants to make sure that doesn't happen now. He's taking precautions such as not allowing his 9-year-old daughter to visit her grandparents. To protect the community's elders, Johnson has also cancelled all tribal events, including a big annual story-telling gathering and an event to encourage community members to participate in the 2020 census.

Many tribes have had to do that — and they're worried that their communities might get under-counted as a result, which would exacerbate funding problems down the road.

That said, "our real goal is to take care of our community that's endangered by this virus," Chinook chairman Tony Johnson said, "as long as it takes to get a vaccine."


Eilís O'Neill was the EarthFix reporter at KUOW Puget Sound Public Radio in Seattle. Eilís (eye-LEASH)  fell in love with radio as a 14-year-old high school intern at KUOW. Since then, she’s wandered the world recording people’s stories and telling them on the air. O’Neill worked at KALW in San Francisco and WAMU in D.C.; she’s freelanced for public radio programs such as The World and Marketplace from places such as Buenos Aires and Santiago de Chile; and she’s written for The Nation and other leading magazines.

To learn more about Native American health programs and organizations, visit Native America Today’s Community Resources Section.

Skins Fest Announces 2020 TV Writers Fellows

“It is vital that we prepare our writers to tell our stories and offer genuine opportunities to showcase our voices and stories," said LA Skins Fest Director Ian Skorodin.

The prominent LA Skins Fest, a Native American film festival in partnership with Comcast NBCUniversal, Sony Pictures Entertainment, Walt Disney Television, the Cherokee Nation Film Office, Kung Fu Monkey Productions and Snowpants Productions, is thrilled to announce the selection of the Native American TV Writers Lab Fellows for 2020.

The Cherokee Nation Film Office is proud to sponsor the Native American TV Writers Lab as it falls right in line with our mission to increase the presence of Native Americans in every level of the film and television industries.” announced Jennifer Loren, director of the Cherokee Nation Film Office. “Representation matters; especially as it pertains to how Natives are portrayed in film, television and pop culture, and we are happy to provide support to an organization actively working to increase Native voices in Hollywood.”

Founded in 2016, the Native American TV Writers Lab is an intensive scriptwriters workshop that prepares Native Americans for writing careers at major television networks. Fellows take part in a five week curriculum curated by seasoned writing executives. The lab consist of daily workshops, seminars and one-on-one mentoring to help each writer develop and complete a pilot in five weeks and hone skills to prepare the writers to move into staff writing jobs.

“NBCUniversal embraces the power of diverse storytelling and has great respect for the rich traditions of Native Americans,” said Craig Robinson, Executive Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer at NBCUniversal. “Our partnership helps us share these unique narratives with the world.”

“As Universal continues to identify Native American talent to broaden the narrative, and introduce these voices to our creative teams, we’re so grateful for the opportunity to deepen our collaboration,” said Janine Jones-Clark, SVP, Global Talent Development & Inclusion.

NBCUniversal’s Craig Robinson and Janine Jones-Clark.

The 5th Annual Fellows are:

Doane Tulugaq Avery (Inupiaq)

Doane Tulugaq Avery is a filmmaker whose stories focus on feminine, queer, and Indigenous character-driven narratives that seek to blend cinematic realism with surreal and musical moments. She was the recipient of the LA Skins Fest Emerging Filmmaker Award, and the imagine NATIVE Jane Glassco Award for Emerging Talent. Her short films have also screened at numerous festivals throughout the world. She was selected as a fellow for the Sundance Institute + IAIA Native Writers Workshop, and received an MFA in Film Directing from the California Institute of the Arts. Currently, she is co-writing a western horror feature film for Blumhouse Productions through development with Jill Soloway’s Topple Productions.

Emma Barrow (Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma)

Originally from Portland, Oregon, Emma moved to Los Angeles for college where she attended California Institute of the arts and received her BFA in Acting. She’s been writing since she was small: first picture books then short stories, plays, sketch comedy and more recently a sitcom pilot and a feature film. After college, Emma started taking improv and sketch writing classes at Upright Citizens Brigade and in 2019 she wrote, produced, directed and acted in a short film called Cover Me.

Sheila Chalakee (Muskogee Creek)

Sheila Chalakee is a comedian and writer whose work has been seen on PBS, WEtv, E! Network, Univision, FNX, and most recently, Amazon Prime. Her collaborations with BuzzFeed, YouTube, and Google garnered over hundreds of millions of views collectively leading to positive press regarding Native issues from The Huffington Post, Nylon Magazine, and international news outlets like CTV Nightly News in Vancouver. Sheila received her BA from Columbia College Chicago where she majored in theater and minored in creative non-fiction.

Kris Crenwelge (Choctaw)

Kris Crenwelge is a Los Angeles-based writer whose half-hour comedies focus on her careers in sports and entertainment, her experience as a motherless daughter, and life with her maternal Choctaw grandmother. Upon moving to L.A., Kris launched her own company, Sports Publication Design, which writes, edits, designs and produces yearbooks and game programs for professional and college sports teams around the country. Kris performs as a storyteller in L.A. and New York and writes for publications including O, the Oprah Magazine and Refinery29. She studied improv and sketch at the Groundlings and Acme Comedy Theater, where she was a mainstage company member and writer for the late-night TV show, Acme Saturday Night.

Boise Esquerra (Hopi)

Boise Esquerra is a Hopi filmmaker who is enrolled in the Colorado River Indian Tribes in Parker, AZ. He is finishing out his last term at the New York Film Academy (Screenwriting), where he is at the top of his class and is in his 9th year of writing. Looking towards the future, Boise hopes to continue to write, direct and create in hopes of helping pave the way for diverse inclusion within the filmmaking industry – specifically strong Native American representation.

Brian Ramian (Acjachemen)

Brian began his career in Los Angeles as an actor in the late 1990’s working both in TV and independent film. He spent several years honing his skills as a storyteller while understanding character psychology before deciding to follow a deeper calling to create story rather than just play in it. In 2006, he wrote and directed his first of two short films, ‘Turnstile’ followed up by his second, ‘Jackpot!’ which won him and co-writer, Marianne Lu, an Audience Award in 2018. Brian’s most recent work, a TV pilot called ‘Sons of the State’, reflects his passion in life to shine brighter light on dark societal tribulations such as child abuse, addiction, the broken social service system, and the afflicted families these issues intrude upon. When he steps away from the stories he musters on his laptop, Brian spends time conspiring ways to jump into adventures with his two teenage kids. 

Kaherawaks Thompson (St. Regis Mohawks of Akwesasne)

Kaherawaks Thompson was born and raised on Kawehnoke, an island on the St. Lawrence River in the northernmost territory of Akwesasne. An alum of the Sundance Institute Native programs, Kaherawaks workshopped her short screenplay, Tehokkenhén:tons ("Close to Death"), during the 2010 Native Lab. In August 2012, a short film was produced from the workshopped story, playing at several festivals across Canada and the USA. In 2014, Kaherawaks was selected for the inaugural imagineNATIVE Festival Script Development lab, with her first feature screenplay. In 2015, her short screenplay, "Lefty's Hymn", was chosen among the projects for the first Sundance Institute + IAIA Native Writers Workshop.

Brian Valle (Crow)

Born and raised on the Crow reservation in Montana, Brian grew up floating the river, hunting, exploring, jumping off cliffs and blasting Korn in his parents basement. Running every day for nearly two years, Brian emerged as a running ace, winning state championships in track, and setting a state record in the 800m run that stood for nearly a decade. Brian began his work in the film industry working as an associate agent in Santa Fe, helping build the Native American division at the Talent House before moving to LA to pursue writing. He has since written numerous scripts that reflect the different aspects of Native life.

At the end of the program, each participant will have completed an original television script and will take creative meetings with corporate partners.

The Native American TV Writers Lab was created to expand the amount of Native Americans working behind the camera, as a way to increase fair and accurate portrayals of Native Americans on television. Native Americans continue to maintain the lowest representation of writers on current television series.

 “It is vital that we prepare our writers to tell our stories and offer genuine opportunities to showcase our voices and stories," said LA Skins Fest Director Ian Skorodin. "We have an immensely talented community eager to share new narratives in an ever expanding industry.”


The prestigious LA SKINS FEST ranks among the country’s best film festivals and is an annual gathering for film industry insiders, cinema enthusiasts, filmmakers, and critics. LA SKINS FEST is considered a major launching ground for the Indian Country’s most talked about films. Our longstanding commitment is to join filmmakers and film connoisseurs together to experience great Native America cinema. The LA SKINS FEST is a 501 (c)(3) nonprofit educational program. Festival headquarters are in Los Angeles, CA.

My Journey at Standing Rock

By Cody Looking Horse

Cannonball River, North Dakota (NFIC)

My name is Cody Looking horse, I am Haudenosaunee and Lakota, Sioux and my mother is Dawn Martin-Hill and she is Mohawk Professor at McMaster University. My mom was the first native woman in Canada to get her PhD in cultural anthropology.

My father is Lakota, Chief Arvol Looking Horse, 19th generation Keeper of the White Buffalo Calf Pipe, living on Cheyenne River Reservation. I live with my mother on the Six Nations of the Grand River. I stay with my father in the summer at Sundance time (July - August) and over the holidays in December. I love being at my fathers ranch, horses roaming freely, it is a magical place, a sacred place, I feel warm and at home.

Every winter since I was 11 years old, I would leave school on December 14th traveling alone to join the Bigfoot Ride, a horseback journey from December 15th - December 26 retracing the footsteps of my relatives that were massacred at Wounded Knee.

Our journey is to mend the sacred hoop of the Nation. Also my father is the spiritual leader of the Dakota 38+2 ride, president Lincoln hung 38 Chiefs on Christmas day in 1862, the largest mass hanging in US history.

We ride to honour our ancestors. Every morning starts with a prayer and ends with prayer. It is hard, its cold, your sore from riding horse through the open plains, we sleep wherever we can, school gyms mostly, eat whatever the people can offer, and dance whenever we can.

They were in ceremony when the Cavalry gathered over 300 mostly unarmed women and children and massacred them. They laid frozen in the snow because a blizzard came through, their bodies on display wherever they were killed for three days. The image of my great-great grandfather in the snow haunts me. My Dad said a holy man had a vision, Black Elk, he was there at Wounded Knee as a child and escaped. Black Elk said, ‘the hoop of the nation was broken at wounded knee.’ The ride started in 1986 and the Bigfoot Ride was to ‘mend the sacred hoop of the nation.’ The youth did not want the ride to end in 1990 so my Dad helped them continue the journey to this day.

In the summer as I help with my father’s Sundance; you can learn a lot from visiting with the dancers, Elders and the supporters.

Last summer I found out there was a pipeline going through Standing Rock and youth had organized to protect the water, I felt drawn to join when Elders told me my grandmothers family were buried in the hills there. It was sacred land. My grandmother is Cecelia Looking Horse, Sitting Bull is her great great great grandfather and he is Hunk Papa and that is the nation of Standing Rock reservation, that is where Sitting Bull had his Sundance, on that sacred land.

Standing Rock is only two hours away from my dads Sundance at Green Grass. I begged my Dad to take me but he was busy with Sundance, so he arranged for his good friend, Julian to take me. We arrived and I didn’t know anybody there, yet that’s where my heart wanted to be, I spent the day there and made some friends and was so sad to leave. My spirit was moved to stay and protect the water and my ancestors graves. Returning home to Six Nations, Ontario to attend school, as the months went by my heart was still with Standing Rock and I thought about them all the time. I stayed in touch through Facebook as many Bigfoot and Dakota 38 + 2 youth riders were there protecting the water.

My mom arranged a ride to Standing Rock by a Mohawk Faith keeper named Kevin Deer. He was going there to bring our strongest medicine to support the water protectors who were getting maced, tasered, tear gassed and shot with rubber bullets while they prayed. I was so excited but I had just landed a job and wanted to graduate from high school. But I took a leap of faith and figured out how to work around school and go anyways. I learned so much from Kevin Deer on our ride to Standing Rock. He told me we had a Treaty with the Sioux Nation and he shared many stories - that is what I want to learn, not what they teach in school. I am so grateful. I walked away from an empty life of white mans education and working a job I didn’t like. We arrived November 12th and I am still here at Standing Rock to this day. I am writing this story from Standing Rock, this is my story.

When we arrived, it was a little bit uncomfortable because I didn’t know anybody anymore. I couldn’t find my relatives. There was a community there and they welcomed us and now they are all my family. My Dad had to travel so once Kevin left I was basically by myself. I saw father only a handful of times as he comes and goes to the camp, but he is a very busy man as the spiritual leader of the Oceti Sakowin camp. He helped set up the seven council fires of the Sioux Nation - that traditional government hadn’t been together since Wounded Knee.

I knew I had to make friends to survive, but have never been afraid to make friends and learning to be on my own, the Rides taught me how to meet new people, it teaches you people skills and leadership.

I have met the most amazing people at Oceti Sakowin and they cared for me right away because they knew my situation. I feel like they are my family now even though we just met a few weeks ago, I know they truly care for me and I am so fortunate and grateful to have made relatives with these people. Also very fortunate to have a place to stay, I am fortunate to know people that had hotel rooms to shower at the casino Prairie Knights which is 20 minutes away. Kind people allowed me in their hotel room. We would sleep on the floors or in a tipi with my uncles and family, so life was good. So many youth were there camping since July, and they are still there. It does not matter where you sleep as long as your there standing with my people.

Being here taught me a lot of life lessons and taught me to be self sufficient because I was not relying on anybody like my mom or dad. The youth are my friends that also had no family there. Youth had to figure out where we gonna sleep? Are we gonna be warm tonight? When is our next meal? It was up to ourselves to survive and nobody else. I was not used to being on my own but I learned quick because this was my decision to be here nobody else’s. Youth needed this and do not regret it and these are our lessons. Yes we miss our families, we thought about and missed our loved ones every day and we know exactly why we are here and what we are up against. The water is sacred to us, I have visited Little Buffalo, northern Alberta many times. I see what the government did to Chief Bernard Ominayak, one of the most traditional leaders I have ever met.

They used to hunt, drink from their stream when I was born now the oil, fracking, tar sands has contaminated their water, ruined the moose, gave animals gangrene, which they relied on for food for thousands of year and hardly hunt anymore. I do not want to see the same destruction to happen to my relatives land, we have lost so much already, we all have much bigger problems to worry about. Its a burden we bare as young people, worrying about losing clean air and water for our children, we should not be carrying this burden at such young ages but are up to the task.

Camp life

Youth keep very busy watching peoples kids while they had important things to do or just help at the kitchen ( that was one of the warmest jobs because of the heat from cooking) or put tipis up, get poles scraped or just do anything anyone asked of me.

It’s pretty awesome to hang with celebrities like Shailene Woodley and Max Carver from teen wolf, but that was just a bonus. Even though they are actors from Hollywood, their hearts are good, they feel strongly about oil companies destroying our water and burial grounds. The fact that they are here to help and protect the water made them just our friends not fan’s of celebrities. They use their fame in a good way, to raise awareness, funds and on the ground helping out just like us. Max and I started to network on projects right away and he has started to raise funding for Standing Rock right and he spent some time here and we went to ceremonies.

We also were supposed to go to the front-lines the night our people were brutalized by police, they had water canons hosing elders, women and medics in freezing weather, they shot tear gas, rubber bullets took, one of our youth lost an arm from a concussion grenade exploding on her, and Vanessa Dundon losing her vision in one eye; they will never have their arm back or vision; this is what everyone doesn’t seem to understand.

But as we were going to leave we were invited to a yuwipi ceremony and went there instead. I could have lost my arm, my vision or been hurt badly too.

One of the biggest needs for the people what they had been struggling to do was to take showers and wash their clothes and he came up with the idea of getting showers and laundry facilities for the people at camp. I was with him on his project 100% and I’m helping him along the way, talking to elders and finding out what is tribal land can the facilities could go and finding out what he needed to know and who to talk to and setting up the eco-village. We are working on how to make the camp all ecological and to not pollute the land and soil with the soaps people use to wash. I cant thank him enough for doing this for us, we all need to learn how to not use oil, chemicals and eat healthier, all our people.

When our unarmed people that get arrested and brutalized at the front lines and get sprayed with chemical warfare at night over the camp, its easy to look around and get upset with the things that are happening, and missing your family every day does not help, it was kind of hard to be upbeat doing the interviews and going to meetings, finishing projects and just helping anybody in general but there are bigger problems than just feeling lonely. I think the Chairmen telling these water protectors to go home once the easement was denied very hurtful, they sacrificed for us as we must for them.

I joined the Youth Council here at Standing Rock, they are the one’s who started all this, they struggle being here, but we help each other. At one of their meetings they honoured me by asking me to be a representative, because of who my dad is and when they told me about the selection it was  really humbling.

The Youth Council are an amazing group of dedicated visionary individuals. I recruited more youth by posting on Facebook that my Six Nations they need to stand with me at Standing Rock and couldn’t believe they actually showed up days later! I was so happy to see my very good friend from back home Dawson George, and many others like Karissa John bringing me homework from our school.

The Mohawks have a big camp at Standing Rock since the fall, very proud of their strength. Youth told me they were already wanting to come and my FB post inspired them make the long journey here, so many came from all over Canada, worried about the eviction the army corps set for December 5th.

Mohawks set up blockades over CN railway moving oil, Seneca’s marched in the streets and so on, love my people’s support. So happy the youth traveled here too, leaving exams, holiday fun to stand here, to stand up against the US governments eviction of us on our own lands, saying we are trespassing was so very wrong and angered so many of us, we weren’t going anywhere.

The scheduled eviction only helped us because thousands of vets poured into camp by December 4th. My mom came to stand with us too. Over 2,000 veterans came because they saw the police brutality on unarmed people, it’s like Wounded Knee all over again, we didn’t know what the army, national guard would do with Morton County police - a militia that are working for and supporting big oil instead of real Americans. That upset veterans too.

What happened next threw everyone off, the veterans asked for our elders to forgive them for the horrific acts of the US soldiers on the Sioux nation, the veterans said at one of the gatherings “we are sorry we murdered your people for your land, tried to colonize your culture, stole your minerals from your sacred lands’ etc.  And everyone was moved to tears - so many spiritual things going on I can’t write about it all.

We heard news at camp from Chairmen Archibult the Army Corp of Engineers denied the easement needed to drill under water - we broke out in cheers, celebrating but everyone knew the denial wouldn’t stop the drilling because they didn’t listen to the law the first time, those tanks and guns need to turn around and arrest DAPL, they are breaking so many laws.

 They dug up our ancestors burial grounds on purpose and when water protectors tried to stop them they got dogs to run up on them and 13 people were bitten badly. Why weren’t these violent people arrested, instead we were and anyone helping us was thrown in “dog cages.” Is this what civilization is? It hurts so deeply, it hurt my Dad and the Elders deeply, they brought those dogs to hurt my people, everything they are doing at the front lines is to hurt my people in some awful way.

How are they getting away with this ? I see so much coverage about it on the news and videos on social media now and why is it not already stopped? Why are they not arrested? We are just praying protecting water and sacred burial grounds and this is what we got to deal with, real terrorist.

Would they be allowed to go through white peoples cemeteries? They terrorize by destroying the environment with pipelines. Even the Pipeline was to go through Bismarck but their town is 90 percent white and they just said no, so it came through our lands.

They terrorize with racism, lying about us, lying on T.V. and the real issue here is racism, it is so openly real here just being native and going into gas stations and restaurants you get the dirtiest looks.

I woke up to grab the free breakfast in Bismarck and this white guy in the hotel me and my mom was staying at told all of us ‘people’ to go the f-k home, he was swearing at an Elderly and his children were sitting right there, looking so afraid, so sad, he is teaching them hate.

I can't even go to the laundromat without being told to “go back home” but little did they know this is my home, this is my land, it is where my ancestors walked and lived for thousands of generations. It’s not normal or right to be scared to go stores to get supplies in town and facing so much hate, dirty looks and getting confrontation for the colour of my skin, your beliefs, your identity.

But we are all in this together, I now know that Muslims, African Americans, and Asians have been dealing with this for years and I feel for them. I love everybody and I just wanna ask racists, why are you so hateful? What did we ever do to you?

I don’t know you, it’s not normal to have hate for someone that you don’t know. That just is not okay or a healthy way to live but I also pray for them because they don’t have a culture, roots or real connections to land, community, ceremony and what that love can feed for your soul, not hate, it turns it black, dead. I cant imagine life without ceremony, it would be empty. I think that is their problem, they forgot how to be real human beings.

The biggest problem my people and youth are dealing with today is depression and drugs, alcohol, but this here Standing Rock, it gives us purpose. No drugs, no alcohol, prayer, ceremony, love and accepting. Some youth have said, if I die defending water & ancestors, its a good death - better than suicide or overdose…” To our leaders, supporting Standing Rock is much more than stopping DAPL, it’s honouring the prophecies of the seventh generation, we are here, we need you to stand with us - not tell us to go home like these racist in town, to have our own reject us is hurtful. We are Crazy Horse’s vision, my dad said it was foretold by all colors would unite around us, Standing Rock stands on Sitting Bull’s holy ground.

Please don’t tell us to go away, support the Youth of Standing Rock. People need to know that we are NOT protestors, we are water protectors, #waterislife, #miniwaconi, #standwithstandingrock, #nodalp, #wearetheseventhgeneration, #wearehome.

Cody Looking horse is Haudenosaunee and Lakota, Sioux.  He resides on the Six Nations of the Grand River.  An accomplished Rider, he joined the Dakota 38 + 2 from December 15th - December 26, in 2008 to retrace the footsteps of ancestor’s to honour them. President Lincoln hung 38 Chiefs on Christmas day, the largest mass hanging in US history. He hasn’t been home for Christmas in 8 years, instead rides in frigid weather across the open plains with his Father. He is currently a representative of Standing Rock Youth Council.

Bottom two photos courtesy: Chief Bigfoot Band Memorial Ride Facebook Page