Biden’s Budget Makes Significant Investments in Bureau of Indian Education

Haskell Indian Nations University
(Photo Credit: Conrad Swanson / Journal-World)

The President’s Budget for fiscal year 2022 includes $1.3 billion in funding to invest in Bureau of Indian Education (BIE) initiatives that would support Native students and teachers from early childhood through college, an increase of $110.6 million from the 2021 enacted level. The Budget makes historic investments that will help the country build back better and lay the foundation for shared growth and prosperity for decades to come.

“The Interior Department plays an important role in the President’s plan to reinvest in the American people. From bolstering climate resiliency and increasing renewable energy, to supporting Tribal nations and advancing environmental justice, President Biden’s budget will make much-needed investments in communities and projects that will advance our vision for a robust and equitable clean energy future,” said Secretary Deb Haaland.

Tony L. Dearman, BIE Director
“The President’s Fiscal Year 2022 Budget provides the Bureau of Indian Education (BIE) the opportunity to support BIE students and our schools after such a tough year,” said BIE Director Tony L. Dearman.

The budget includes the two historic plans the President has already put forward — the Americans Jobs Plan and the American Families Plan – and reinvests in education, research, public health, and other foundations of our country’s strength. At the Bureau of Indian Education, the budget would:

  • Increase Indian School Equalization Program (ISEP) and Early Childhood Funding. The budget includes a $60 million program increase above 2021 enacted levels to improve Indian student academic outcomes, support expanded preschool programs, and provide pay parity for Tribal teachers while fully funding projected Tribal Grant Support Costs. Within the increase, $49 million is for Indian School Equalization Program (ISEP) formula funds to improve opportunities and outcomes in the classroom; provide improved instructional services; and support improved teacher quality, recruitment, and retention. An additional $3 million is for Early Child and Family Development to expand preschool opportunities at BIE-funded schools and $8.0 million is for Tribal Grant Support Costs for Tribes that choose to operate BIE-funded schools to support 100 percent of the estimated requirement.

Woman posing in front of ITS banner
Photo Credit: AISES

  • Improved access to Education IT. An increase of $20 million for Education IT will support the ongoing costs of distance learning and enhanced use of technology in the classroom. Supplemental funding to support BIE-funded schools has enabled new technology investments and operational capabilities for learning in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. These investments will be long-lasting and will provide invaluable infrastructure to enable BIE to continue to deliver education during and after the pandemic, and they will substantially improve the efficiency and quality of education upon return to in-school learning. Although most schools remain in either a distance learning or hybrid instruction mode, BIE continues to work collaboratively with Tribes and communities to alleviate the strains imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic on BIE students and their families, as well as on teachers, administrators, and staff in K–12 schools and at Tribal colleges and universities (TCUs). The 2022 budget increase in education information technology resources will continue the annual learning software subscriptions and licenses. The increase will also support contract extensions needed to maintain this investment, as well as the educational IT personnel costs to support remote learning and additional broadband capabilities.
  • Expand Scholarships and Adult Education Opportunities. An increase of $10 million for the Scholarships and Adult Education (TPA) ( program will improve educational opportunities and serve a larger population of qualified Native American students with financial assistance for eligible American Indian and Alaska Native students. The program supports Administration priorities through educational grants to Tribal communities, which have been historically underserved and adversely affected by persistent poverty and inequality. These funds enable Tribes to further Tribal sovereignty and self-determination by establishing their own educational priorities, promoting economic development, and improving standards of living in American Indian and Alaska Native communities.

BIE's Western Agency Spelling Bee winners
Winners of BIE’s Western Agency Spelling Bee (Photo Credit: Navajo Times)

  • Improve Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility Practices. The BIE budget includes $400,000 as part of a Department-wide Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility budget initiative to address identified high-priority needs in support of Executive Order 13985, Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities Through the Federal Government, as well as Executive Order 13988, Preventing and Combating Discrimination on the Basis of Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation. As part of this initiative, the Department, bureaus, and offices will jointly conduct a review of the Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility program across Interior to identify gaps, challenges, and best practices and to examine Department and bureau roles, responsibilities, and governance.
  • Prioritize Education Construction. The budget also includes $264.3 million in annual funding for Education Construction to replace and repair school facilities in poor condition and address deferred maintenance needs at campuses in the BIE school system. Education Construction funds will be supplemented by permanent funds from the Great American Outdoors Act. BIE is expected to receive up to $95 million per year in GAOA permanent funding for priority deferred maintenance projects from 2021 through 2025. Actual amounts are dependent on energy development revenues, as specified in the GAOA.

Bureau of Indian Education logo

About the Bureau of Indian Education (BIE)

The BIE implements federal Indian education programs and funds 183 elementary schools, secondary schools and dormitories (of which over two-thirds are tribally operated) located on 64 reservations in 23 States serving an estimated 45,000 individual students. The BIE also operates two postsecondary schools and administers grants for 29 tribally controlled colleges and universities and two Tribal technical colleges.

First Nations Grants Over $1 Million to Bolster Language Immersion Programs

Michael Roberts

“People recognize that Native language is critical not just for passing down knowledge, but for fostering pride and culture, which is the foundation of Native resilience and success.” (Michael Roberts, First Nations President and CEO)

For the fourth year in a row, First Nations Development Institute is continuing its Native Language Immersion Initiative (NLII) with the awarding of nine grants to Native-led organizations and tribes building language in their communities through immersion programs.

First Nations launched the initiative in 2017 as a three-year project to support Native nations and organizations actively working to stem the loss of Indigenous languages and cultures through Native language immersion. The initiative was made possible with support from the National Endowment for the Humanities, which provided a $2.1 million challenge grant that First Nations matched thanks to generous support from multiple foundations and many individual donors across the U.S.

Now – with ongoing support from the National Endowment for the Humanities, Kalliopeia Foundation, NoVo Foundation, Wells Fargo, Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation, and many individual contributions – the initiative is extending to a fourth year to support the continuing demand and needs of Native language immersion programs.

“The number of grant applications First Nations receives every year for language programs is a testament to the importance of cultivating and preserving Native languages,” said Michael Roberts, First Nations president and CEO. “People recognize that Native language is critical not just for passing down knowledge, but for fostering pride and culture, which is the foundation of Native resilience and success.”

Since the NLII began, more than 30 Native organizations and tribes have received over $4 million in funding to build the capacity of and directly support their Native language immersion programs. The fourth year of the initiative brings funding to these additional nine grantees:

Thunder Valley Community Development Corporation (Porcupine, SD) - $90,000

This organization will create a Lakȟóta Montessori-themed preschool curriculum and will design 20 authentic Lakȟóta stories that will be used in all classrooms and instruction. The organization will also launch the “Unci Stories” mobile application, and will redesign and rebrand their current Montessori through Adult curriculum.

Ke Kula ‘O Pi’ilani (Wailuku, HI) - $90,000

The goal of Ke Kula ‘O Pi’ilani is to increase language acquisition, literacy, and fluency by implementing a tutoring program and resources. The program will also conduct professional development trainings and Hānai ʻAi workshops to produce traditional food-making implements to learn, practice, and utilize the language, along with Ka Piko Kaiao program classes to increase language and cultural fluency.

Lower Sioux Indian Community (Morton, MN) - $90,000

With this funding, the community will increase language instruction for teachers and staff, hire a Language Teacher Apprentice to increase the number of language teachers, and create and record family language materials to increase parent and community language acquisition. The community will also expand total immersion instruction at the Cansayapi Wakanyeza Owayawa Oti School.

Pueblo of Sandia (Bernalillo, NM) - $90,000

Through the Tiwa Language Program, this organization will provide instruction to children and adults, and develop electronic resources and hand-made materials to utilize in language learning. Materials will be catalogued and made available by check out or via the intranet. In addition, six tribal members will complete the Philosophy of Indigenous course online through the Indigenous Montessori Institute.

Keweenaw Bay Ojibwa Community College (Baraga, MI) - $90,000

Keweenaw Bay Ojibwa Community College will develop and implement permanent signage, obtain resources for all facilities, and complete 16 teach-the-teacher training sessions for faculty and staff. The college will also implement weekly Nookomis/Mishomis teachings, develop and implement curriculum, and incorporate language use into community programs.

Northern Arapaho Tribe (Ft. Washakie, WY) - $90,000

The tribe will continue with the Arapaho Language acquisition project and will recruit three more apprentices. All apprentices will be assigned a master teacher to learn the language, speak Arapaho, and understand its importance to the Arapaho. Project participants will speak the language by teaching students using lessons developed through the project term.

Kulaniakea (Honolulu, HI) - $90,000

The project team for Kulaniakea will create a comprehensive curriculum plan and corresponding educational materials. They will produce three prototypes of educational materials and accompanying lesson plans. They will then pilot-test and evaluate the lesson plans and educational materials with preschool-aged children and parents.

Oneida Nation (Oneida, WI) - $90,000

Through this project, two contracted immersion trainees will achieve second-level speaking ability and comprehend all Oneida language vocabulary, and language nest students will increase their proficiency of the Oneida Language. Further, an outdoor learning classroom will be installed for students to foster connections to land, develop problem-solving and critical thinking skills, and increase language retention as assessed by staff observations.

Lakota Waldorf Society (Kyle, SD) - $90,000

The Lakota Waldorf Society will continue work to ensure that all students receive Lakota language instruction, not counting daily conversational interactions during lunches, recesses, and other situations. They will also ensure that every student participates in a play, knows four songs, and can demonstrate familiarity with the stories of the plays and that all teachers and staff attend weekly Lakota language workshops.

Native Language Immersion Initiative

About First Nations Development Institutez

For 40 years, using a three-pronged strategy of educating grassroots practitioners, advocating for systemic change, and capitalizing Indian communities, First Nations has been working to restore Native American control and culturally-compatible stewardship of the assets they own – be they land, human potential, cultural heritage or natural resources – and to establish new assets for ensuring the long-term vitality of Native American communities.


Elizabeth Peratrovich Is My Role Model

by Evan Elise Roberts

Guest author Evan Elise Roberts, a Tlingit from Colorado, attends Yale College where she works on behalf of the Native American Cultural Center and serves as a Board Member of the Association of Native Americans at Yale. She is also the daughter of Michael Roberts,  President and CEO of First Nations Development Institute.

Role models are some of the most powerful people in the world, no matter their positions in politics or leadership, because they can influence the minds of the next generation. As a high schooler, all of my peers and I are looking up to role models and those who we truly admire. But being Native American, my choices for role models are not nearly as plentiful as my classmates.

There are few prominent Native Americans in politics, or who are prominent scientists or writers, and even fewer who are popular celebrities. Even in American history class, accomplishments by prominent Native Americans are not often taught, leaving Native students to their own devices to learn about important and inspiring people like them.

Lucky for me, from a young age I have heard story after story about a wonderful ancestor of mine – the inspiring Elizabeth Peratrovich. Elizabeth Peratrovich was a civil rights activist whose advocacy helped pass the Alaska Territory’s Anti-Discrimination Act of 1945. She was a hero to our people, the Tlingit, as well as to so many other Alaska Natives. In fact, she blazed the way for advancements in fighting Jim Crow laws in the United States as a whole, as her actions came almost 20 years before the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

To me, my great-great aunt Elizabeth Peratrovich was finally a role model who was a Native woman. We need to learn more about women like her – women who stood up for what they believed, against all odds, and who defended their people and their rights throughout their entire lives.

In the time of Elizabeth Peratrovich, discrimination toward Natives was shown in many ways, including signs posted outside of establishments like “No Dogs or Natives allowed.” She fought against so many stereotypes against Native people and showed that we can be anything we want. Her speech to the senate before the passing of the Anti-Discrimination Act was so inspiring, saying “I would not have expected that I, who am barely out of ‘savagery,’ would have to remind gentlemen with five thousand years of recorded civilization behind them, of our Bill of Rights.”

It showed me that no matter our position, we can stand up for what we believe in and make a difference with the power of our words. I am honored to call Elizabeth Peratrovich my kinswoman and my role model.

To learn more about Elizabeth Peratrovich, click here. 

Native America Today thanks First Nations Development Institute and Native Stories, where this article originally appeared. To learn how First Nations is making an impact, click here.

About First Nations Development Institute

For 38 years, using a three-pronged strategy of educating grassroots practitioners, advocating for systemic change, and capitalizing Indian communities, First Nations has been working to restore Native American control and culturally-compatible stewardship of the assets they own – be they land, human potential, cultural heritage or natural resources – and to establish new assets for ensuring the long-term vitality of Native American communities.  First Nations serves Native American communities throughout the United States. For more information, visit

First Nations is closed on February 16 each year in honor of Elizabeth Peratrovich Day. In 1988 the Alaska Legislature also established that day in her honor.


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.