The move to virtual comes as COVID rates for Indigenous groups outpaces share of population
BOISE — A group of more than 200 people from across Idaho and the Northwest logged online to Facebook and Zoom to honor and recognize the original inhabitants of Idaho through the state’s second Indigenous People’s Day celebration.
Last year, Gov. Brad Little signed a proclamation recognizing Indigenous People’s Day on the day traditionally marked as Columbus Day. The designation acknowledges and celebrates the contributions of native communities to Idaho. Following the proclamation reading last October, Indigenous leaders and activists spoke to a large crowd in the atrium of the state Capitol.
Like many events in both Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities, this year’s Indigenous People’s Day was celebrated online, to ensure the safety of its participants and attendees.
Tai Simpson, an activist and member of the Nez Perce Tribe, helped host the online event, along with Jason Prettyboy, a Lakota Sioux tribal member. Simpson was thrilled throughout the celebration to conduct interviews and meet virtually with tribal members. She said it has been difficult to connect because the COVID-19 pandemic has inhibited tribes from hosting events and gatherings.
“We haven’t been able to powwow this season,” Simpson said.
Powwows are celebrations in Native communities with singing and dancing, spaces to show art, and time to pray and come together as a community.
The COVID-19 pandemic has shown and exacerbated the health disparities between non-Hispanic white people and American Indians and Alaska Natives. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that in 23 states, American Indians and Alaska Natives are more than three times more likely than non-Hispanic whites to test positive for the virus.
In Idaho, American Indians and Alaska Natives make up 737, or 2.29%, of the state’s 32,200 COVID-19 cases with known ethnicity, according to the Idaho Division of Public Health. Census data estimates American Indians and Alaska Natives make up 1.7% of the state’s population.
During Idaho’s celebration on Monday, Simpson said she wants to see native communities celebrated as people who contribute to the state in many ways.
“We should be celebrated as folks that contribute,” Simpson said, “We are your teachers and lawyers,” she said.
According to a University of Idaho study, the five tribes of Idaho — Coeur d’Alene, Kootenai, Nez Perce, Shoshone-Bannock tribes and the Shoshone-Paiute tribes — had an annual economic footprint of over $1 billion in 2015. The tribes are ranked in the top three largest employers for each of their respective regional economies.
To begin the online celebration, Simpson mentioned three asks from Indigenous communities: she said tribes want their land back from the government, they want free education on tribal land and want all Indigenous mascots to be removed from schools; “they are all racist, full stop,” she said.
The online event featured a performance by the Rose Creek Singers of the Coeur d’Alene Tribe, originally called Schitsu’umsh, interviews with a number of young Indigenous leaders across Idaho, a speech from Idaho Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate Paulette Jordan and interviews with native artists.
Lori Edmo, a member of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes, also spoke at Monday’s event. She is an organizer of the Return of the Boise Valley People, an annual summer event where representatives from five tribes in Idaho reunite to celebrate their heritage.
Edmo said the Boise Valley People are working to gain nonprofit status and to someday start on plans for a cultural center for the Boise Valley People.
After the Boise Valley People were marched out of the Treasure Valley nearly 150 years ago, their descendants became the Burns Paiute of Oregon, the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs Paiute Band, the Fort McDermitt Paiute and Shoshone of Nevada, the Shoshone-Paiute and the Shoshone-Bannock tribes today, according to previous reporting by the Idaho Press.
Jordan expressed the need for native people to register and vote in the upcoming election. She also encouraged women and native people to run for office.
“Our voices are long overdue,” she said.
Rachel Spacek is the Latino Affairs and Canyon County reporter for the Idaho Press. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on twitter @RachelSpacek.
By: Rachel Spacek