American Indian Policy Institute at
Arizona State University | Monthly Newsletter

        August 2020 Newsletter        

Unexpected Good News in Indian Country

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2.5 GHz Tribal Priority Window Extended by 30 Days  

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Vote-by-Mail: Balancing Promise and Prudence   

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Learning(HU)Man: Session on Social Justice, Digital Education, and Tribal Rights   

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Brian Howard Hosts Internet Governance Forum   

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Click here to read an update from AIPI Director Traci Morris.
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Unexpected Good News in Indian Country  

Good news rained down in Indian Country this July like a cooling monsoon shower in the middle of a hot Arizona summer. 

On July 9, the Supreme Court issued a decision in McGirt v. Oklahoma affirming the criminal law jurisdiction of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation because Congress never explicitly disestablished the reservation lands of the tribe. Indian Country celebrated the decision as an affirmation of tribal sovereignty. To learn more about the history of the court case and implications of the decision for criminal jurisdiction in other tribal nations, watch this excellent panel discussion hosted by the Indian Legal Program out of ASU’s Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law (pictured below). 


The Washington Football Team (it’s official moniker for the foreseeable future) on July 13 announced that it was officially retiring the racist nickname it bore for the past 87 years. For decades, leaders in Indian Country, notably Amanda Blackhorse, challenged the team to #ChangeTheName for moral and ethical reasons. After only a few weeks under the threat of lost profits, the team succumbed to pressure from its corporate partners like FedEx and Nike as well as major retailers such as Amazon, Walmart, and Target. The team has not, however, officially chosen a new nickname, which does little to persuade the public to stop using the team’s former name. 

The Dakota Access Pipeline was ordered by a District Court Judge on July 6 to shut down operations and remove all oil from the pipeline within 30 days (by August 5). The order was celebrated by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and all that supported them in the #NoDAPL movement. The order follows an April ruling that further environmental review is necessary. “This is what the tribe has been saying all along,” said one Standing Rock Sioux Tribe attorney. The celebration was hampered, however, on July 14, when a court of appeals issued a stay on the lower court’s order, buying the operator more time and allowing the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit more time to make a final decision. In related news, also on July 6, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected a request made by the Trump Administration to lift an order that is preventing the continued construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline. 

2.5 GHz Tribal Priority Window Extended by 30 Days 

In what felt like a slap in the face to tribes, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) issued a mere 30-day extension of the 2.5 GHz Tribal Priority Window (TPW), ignoring calls for a more meaningful, actionable deadline extension. The FCC kept tribes in suspense, issuing the announcement on July 31, only four days before the TPW was originally scheduled to terminate; it could have issued a substantive TPW extension in consultation with tribes any time in the past six months. 

The Tribal Priority Window offers tribal nations an opportunity to obtain licenses for available broadband spectrum in the 2.5 GHz band over their lands at no cost in an effort to provide more equitable broadband internet access in Indian Country and bridge the digital divide a little bit. It opened for applications on February 3 of this year and will now close on September 2. 

Advocates say an extension is necessary because the COVID-19 pandemic prevented many eligible tribes from participating in the TPW. They asked the FCC to give tribes more time to file applications for spectrum licenses under the Tribal Priority Window because they were stymied by the exigencies of the pandemic, and knew that the program closure meant they would miss out on a major opportunity to expand their economic, educational, health, and governance operations through no fault of their own. 

More than 100 tribes, tribal organizations, public interest organizations, and industry actors declared support for Indian Country’s call to extend the window. Many agreed the FCC should issue at least a 90-day extension, and many others called for a 180-day extension. In a response to the FCC announcement, the National Congress of American Indians said, “The FCC, at a minimum, must provide the same 180-day extension to tribal nations that it gave to the cable industry due to COVID-19.” 

“In their time of need, facing the worst of the digital divide in an unprecedented pandemic that is revealing the worst effects of the digital divide, the Commission has, with flawed logic, chosen a poor outcome that will have lasting negative effects,” said AIPI board member and former FCC Office of Native Affairs and Policy Chief Geoff Blackwell. “In the face of 20 years of stated deliberate efforts premises on the Commission’s federal trust relationship with, and responsibility to, Tribes one would be hard-pressed to dissuade the Tribes that their genuine need and legal standing was more than an afterthought in this decision.”

Indian Country advocates will continue to work toward securing equitable broadband access throughout tribal lands and encourage tribal governments to apply for spectrum licenses as soon as possible. Stay tuned to AIPI news feeds for a forthcoming, in-depth response to the FCC decision. 

Vote-by-Mail: Balancing Promise and Prudence 

With the nation living under the shadow of COVID-19, and an expectation that it will continue to be a presence well into autumn, officials are scrambling to ensure the November 2020 general election proceeds as smoothly as possible. As states eye vote-by-mail (VBM) solutions, an upcoming AIPI publication emphasizes the need for tribal voices in creating equitable election systems.

This month, AIPI is publishing a policy overview that examines the benefits of vote-by-mail (VBM) efforts and the potential pitfalls of being overly reliant on VBM systems without sufficient and representative tribal input in the creation of equitable elections processes. Mail-in ballots alleviate some of the burdens of in-person voting, says author and AIPI Graduate Policy Assistant Coby Klar, but may present additional obstacles for many tribal residents who have unconventional addresses or difficulty understanding English language ballots. 

Stay tuned to AIPI news feeds for this upcoming publication.

Learning(HU)Man: Session on Social Justice, Digital Education, and Tribal Rights 

AIPI Executive Director Traci Morris was invited to speak at the ASU Learning(Hu)Man Digital Immersion Event on July 23, 2020 in a virtual session on Social Justice, Digital Education and Tribal Rights. She was joined by Matthew Rantanen (AIPI Advisory Board Member and Technology Director of the Southern California Tribal Chairmen’s Association), Bryan Brayboy (AIPI Advisory Board Member and the ASU President’s Special Advisor on American Indian Initiatives), and Leah Gazan (Member of Canadian Parliament).  

Learning(Hu)Man 2020 was an experimental fusion of hands-on learning, storytelling, tech hacks and the good kind of shenanigans. Pitched as a kind of “summer camp,” Learning(Hu)Man 2020 was a weeklong series of events that brought together a global community of education changemakers intent on pushing the creative envelope for how we serve students and advance learner success. A cohort of “camp counselors” (read: education and industry leaders) led interactive experiences that sought to uncover best practices in learning design, edtech tools and development, and emergent thinking around the art of the possible — all with the shared mission of enabling student success in all of its dimensions.

In the session, participants were asked to speak to the following: First nation peoples are the original communities of the Americas numbering more than 40 million persons. Systemic and institutional racism is part of the historic and current reality impacting all facets of life, including access, adoption, and use of digital technologies. How do we gain an understanding of the importance of digital inclusivity for social justice with respect to tribal communities? What is the role of education in the pursuit of social justice? How do tribal rights come into play in the digital age? 

Brian Howard Hosts Internet Governance Forum 

AIPI Research and Policy Analyst Brian Howard moderated an online panel discussion July 23 called the “Impact of COVID-19 on Learners and Educators,” for the Internet Governance Forum USA 2020. The purpose of the panel was to talk about how “the switch to studying and teaching online has hit learners and educators in underprivileged areas — such as rural, remote, tribal, and low-income communities — particularly hard” and to explore the innovative solutions communities have employed to the challenges of adjusting to the new digital learning environment. The panel focused on the transition “from short-term to long-term solutions, the sustainability of post-COVID connectivity models, and ensuring that all Americans are connected in the case of another quarantine period.” 

The panel featured Fernando Cárdenas, Senior Manager for Employee Engagement and Partnerships, Internet Essentials Program at Comcast; Marian Christmon, Manager of Digital Inclusion Initiatives, Nashville Public Library; Kimball Sekaquaptewa, Chief Technology Director, Santa Fe Indian School; and Emy Tseng, Senior Program Specialist, NTIA, U.S. Department of Commerce. 


 Ittifatpoli (a message from our director) 

As fast as time flies while we are in quarantine, last month was so full of breaking news, it felt like a year! July was a month of extreme highs and one pretty big low, with Indian Country getting some huge wins in the social and judicial arenas, but a dumbfounding setback on the digital frontier, accompanied by some unexpected paternalistic tendencies, reminiscent of historic governmental actions, rising up even in a time of cultural awakening. 

One win I can barely wrap my head around is the McGirt v Oklahoma decision. As a member of the Chickasaw Nation of Oklahoma, I was personally moved by this decision. We knew the Supreme Court ruling was coming, and despite taking two years to render a decision, I was pessimistic that the Court would rule in our favor. So when it did, I, like so many others, was stunned. There are no words to describe how I felt when I heard the decision. After a good cry and an emotional day, reality set in: this was the biggest Indian Law decision in a century. While it will take years for the full implications of the ruling to be known, what I knew is that I was no longer a landless Indian. Previously, tribal land of the 5 Tribes was deemed “former reservation lands in Oklahoma.” Now our reservation boundaries are affirmed. I cannot begin to express the change I felt individually because of this ruling.

Add to the landmark McGirt decision a federal court order that temporarily halted operations of the Dakota Access Pipeline and the Washington Football Team’s decision to eliminate its racist mascot (leading to a cascade of other teams abandoning similarly offensive mascots) — well, I (and others) certainly didn’t expect all of this progress to hit in such rapid succession, let alone all in the same month. 

Alas, there were some things that didn’t go our way, things that will have immediate detrimental impacts on tribal communities. The decision to extend the Rural Tribal Priority window by only 30 days was disappointing at best. The paternalistic language used in the announcement read like something out of the Termination Era 1950s. So, while tribal sovereignty was upheld in the McGirt decision, the FCC action flies in the face of long-established principles based on the federal trust responsibility and, making matters worse, is a detriment to tribes in the midst of a global pandemic. 

As you may know, AIPI’s area of specialization is broadband and telecommunications with regard to Indian Country. So, it’s been a busy six months, culminating with the push to extend the Tribal Priority Window. Our days are filled with meetings, webinars, consultations, and interviews regarding the state of the internet on tribal lands. This month alone saw us talking to Thomson Reuters, Cisco, ISOC, and others about the digital divide. Despite the disappointing setback from the FCC, AIPI will continue to be a part of the larger national conversation on these issues.

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