Savannah Maher

Savannah Maher is KUNM and the Mountain West News Bureau’s Indigenous Affairs reporter. She came to New Mexico from Wyoming, where she covered everything from tribal buffalo restoration to forgery of Indigenous artwork for Wyoming Public Radio. Before that, she was a producer for NPR’s midday show Here & Now.

Her work has also appeared in The Texas Observer, High Country News and NPR’s Code Switch blog.

She was raised in Mashpee, MA by a big Wampanoag family that taught her everything she knows about quahogging and almost everything she knows about telling stories.

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Keres Children's Learning Center

Outside of their home in Bernalillo, N.M., 11-year-old Mililani Suina and her 8-year-old brother Marshall talk about some of their favorite foods from their tribal communities: the Pueblos of Cochiti, San Felipe and Santo Domingo.

"Tortillas are the biggest from Santo Domingo," Marshall says, stretching his arms out wide. "And from Cochiti, they're kind of, like, medium."

Mililani shares the different Keres words for a treat that's served on feast days.

Savannah Maher

U.S. Highway 550 runs from Montrose, Colo., to Bernailillo, N.M. If you drive all 300 miles of it, you'll weave in and out of tribal land more than a dozen times.

One of the places you'll pass through is Zia Pueblo, where Gov. Jerome Lucero, who is also an officer with the Pueblo's police department, said a stretch of the highway running through the reservation gives his department trouble.

"We have a lot of jurisdictional issues on U.S. 550," he said. "When I pull someone over, I have to take into consideration whether they're Native or non-Native."

Douglas Holt / USFWS

The lesser prairie chicken could receive federal protections under the Endangered Species Act in parts of the Mountain West. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced a proposal Wednesday to list the birds as endangered in eastern New Mexico, and as threatened in its northern reaches that include parts of southeastern Colorado.

With the FDA and CDC signing off on kids as young as 12 receiving Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine, young people around the region tell the Mountain West News Bureau about what's motivating them to get the shot.

Ezra Visser, 14, Laramie, Wyoming

"I wanted to get [the shot] pretty much right away. Because that way I knew I had at least some type of protection against COVID. And that way I could see friends more freely and, eventually, not have to wear a mask in most places."

New Mexico Department of Health

Many Hispanic Americans who aren't yet vaccinated against the coronavirus are eager to get the shot, according to the results of a new survey from the Kaiser Family Foundation. 33 Percent of unvaccinated Hispanic respondents reported wanting to get vaccinated "as soon as possible," compared to about 16% of unvaccinated non-Hispanic white and Black respondents.

itakdalee / iStock

The term "critical race theory" has made its way into public debates over education in the Mountain West, and how students should be taught about race and racism. But it's not clear that any K-12 schools in our region actually employ the decades-old academic framework. And as right-wing officials portray it as radical, those who study critical race theory say its meaning is being misconstrued.

Critical race theory is, in short, an approach to understanding structural racism in the United States.

Courtesy of Dine College

President Biden has laid out his vision for the future of public education, which includes a nationwide community college tuition waiver for all Americans who want to take advantage.

That waiver would be especially impactful in states with the lowest levels of higher education attainment, including several in the Mountain West. In Idaho, Nevada, Wyoming and New Mexico, fewer than 30% of adults over 25 have a bachelor's degree.

Little Shell Tribal Health

 

Many tribal leaders are used to stretching every dollar that comes their way. Last year, they were faced with a different problem: millions in badly needed aid money, and not enough time to spend it.

"The money came at us quick, and it was a flurry," said Karen Snyder, who coordinates pandemic response for the Eastern Shoshone Tribe in Wyoming. "We had to act fast in order to get it out the door."

Rex Wholster / Shutterstock

 

The Indian Child Welfare Act still stands, with some of its key provisions weakened by a sharply divided U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals this month. The 325-page opinion has no immediate impact on child welfare cases in the Mountain West, but it's likely to be challenged in the U.S. Supreme Court.

Savannah Maher

The Biden administration will restore the White House Council on Native American Affairs, an interagency initiative that coordinates federal services and policies that impact tribal nations. The council was first launched under former President Obama, but went dark for most of the Trump years.

Savannah Maher

 

Last month, Deb Haaland made history as the first Indigenous person ever confirmed by the Senate to serve in a president's cabinet. In her first official trip as secretary of the Interior, she visited the Mountain West with a focus on tribal issues.

SizeSquares / Shutterstock

This week, federal officials issued dire warnings of a potential fourth wave of coronavirus cases and deaths if Americans let their guards down. President Joe Biden urged governors to maintain or reinstate mask mandates to ward off a surge.

Denver Indian Health and Family Services

This is the second in a two-part series about the vaccine rollout in Indian Country. Part one looks at the success of the rollout on rural reservations.

 

The Indian Health Service has delivered coronavirus vaccine doses to the most far-flung corners of the country. From remote villages in Alaska to the bottom of the Grand Canyon, Indigenous Americans as young as 16 have had access to the shot for weeks.

Amanda Fehring

 

This is the first in a two-part series about the vaccine rollout in Indian Country. Part two looks at the challenges of vaccinating our region's urban Native population. 

 

KrisNM / Flickr creative commons

 

Some Indigenous histories are preserved in stories, songs, ceremonies and elder testimony that are passed down orally - rather than with written records. These histories can constitute important evidence of past events. But they're sometimes ruled inadmissible as evidence in the American justice system.

UNM Newsroom

 

Most students enrolled half-time or more in college typically aren't eligible for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), sometimes known as food stamps. But temporary changes to the federal program are allowing some low-income students to take advantage during the pandemic.

Savannah Maher

President Joe Biden is expected to sign the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill into law on Friday. It includes the largest ever one-time federal investment in Indian Country, with $20 billion in direct aid to tribal governments, and another $11 billion set aside for federal Indian programs. 

The aid comes as many tribal nations in the Mountain West are struggling to stay afloat.

Adobe Stock

 Deb Haaland's road to lead the Department of the Interior has been rocky, with some members of Congress using her confirmation process to air grievances with President Joe Biden's climate change agenda. 

On Tuesday, Montana Sen. Steve Daines and Wyoming Sen. Cynthia Lummis, both Republicans, placed a procedural hold on her nomination, citing concerns about her positions on oil and gas development.

 

U.S. Rep. Deb Haaland / Twitter

 

Jazmine Wildcat is a star student in Riverton, Wyoming. Not the type to skip class. But on Tuesday morning, a piece of history was unfolding that the 17-year-old just couldn't miss: A congressional hearing to consider the confirmation of Deb Haaland as the first Indigenous secretary of the Interior.

"It is just super monumental and so inspiring, not only to just me, but probably other Native women," Jazmine said.

THE OFFICE OF U.S. HOUSE REP. DEB HAALAND

 

 

New Mexico Congresswoman Deb Haaland is poised to become our nation's first Indigenous cabinet secretary. As some prominent Mountain West lawmakers oppose her confirmation to lead the U.S. Department of the Interior, many of their Indigenous constituents are pushing back.

Acoma Learning Center

It's a Wednesday evening in December. Five o'clock means the end of my work day, and the start of Wampanoag language class.

"Wunee wunôq," my language teacher, Tracy Kelly, greets me as I join the Zoom call from my kitchen table in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Courtesy of the Dennison family

 

Karlets Dennison's favorite place to be was on a horse. Preferably with loved ones riding alongside him.

"That was his love. His horses, his ranch, his rodeo," said his wife Debbie Jackson-Dennison. "And he loved sharing it with his kids and his granddaughter."

WildEarth Guardians / Flickr

 

On Wednesday, President Joe Biden ordered a temporary suspension of new leasing and permitting for oil and gas development on public lands. But the order will not apply to tribal lands.

This is the second story in the Mountain West News Bureau series "Elevated Risk," a project powered by America Amplified, a public radio initiative.

Cole Stump was a Montanan, through and through. The 29-year-old citizen of the Chippewa-Cree Tribe was raised on the Rocky Boy's Indian Reservation in the north-central part of the state and had family ties to the Fort Peck Reservation in the northeast corner. He was a loving father of five and a skilled ranch hand.

Courtesy: Shoshone-Bannock Tribes

 

Tribes in the Mountain West reached resolutions in two long standing environmental disputes this week. The victories for the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes and the Navajo Nation could signal a shift toward accountability for corporate polluters operating on tribal lands.

Adobe Stock

 

State lawmakers across the Mountain West are convening for legislative sessions that will focus largely on the fallout of the pandemic. But without significant precautions, statehouses could become hotbeds for COVID-19 spread.

Legislative sessions typically bring together hundreds of lawmakers, legislative staff, lobbyists, journalists, and members of the public. They travel to and from every corner of a given state and gather indoors, sometimes in cramped meeting spaces.

Tomasz Zajda / Adobe Stock

Some of the largest and most deadly COVID-19 outbreaks have occurred in our country's prisons. The latest guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that incarcerated people be included in phase 1B of vaccine distribution. But most states in the Mountain West are breaking with that guidance.

The office of U.S. House Rep. Deb Haaland


Soon after she was elected as one of America's first Indigenous congresswomen in 2018, New Mexico Rep. Deb Haaland paid a visit to her constituents at the Pueblo of Sandia, just outside of Albuquerque. 

"She came to the Pueblo for one of our feast days," said Stephine Poston, a tribal citizen and advocate for Native women leadership. "And the young girls, a couple of them were following her around and she stopped to talk to them. It was an amazing thing to see and witness." 

Poston said Haaland may as well have been a celebrity to those girls, but she didn't act like one. 

"She's just that person who will stop and see you," Poston said. 

And she said that's how Pueblo people, and Indigenous people across the country, have been feeling since Haaland was nominated to lead the Department of the Interior: Seen.

Adobe Stock

States across the Mountain West are receiving their first shipments of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine. And the Moderna vaccine will be coming once it's granted emergency authorization by the FDA. But as distribution gets underway, other COVID-19 prevention measures including frequent hand-washing, mask-wearing and social distancing will still be necessary. 

Courtesy Silver Little Eagle

Karen Snyder has never been afraid to use her voice. She learned that from the women who raised her on the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming.

"I come from a very long line of strong women. Grandmothers, mothers, a very strong line of women that are very outspoken," Snyder said.

That came in handy in 2016, when she was elected as one of two women on the six-person Eastern Shoshone Business Council.

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