On Saturday, April 10, at 2 p.m. the Traverse City Human Rights Commission will host a free educational program on Zoom titled “Ein-biidaajimotaageijig (the ones who bring the news to the people): Reclaiming Identity in Everyday Endeavors” with the Mishigamiing Journalism Project. Featured speakers are reporters Suzann Cook, Sierra Clark, Meghanlata Gupta and Katy Bresette from the Mishigamiing Journalism Project, a partnership between the Traverse City Record-Eagle and Indigenizing the News. Jennifer Loup and Jade Prange, Traverse City Human Rights commissioners, will facilitate the program and Q/A section. The Zoom link is https://us02web.zoom.us/j/81921806057. The program runs 90 minutes.

Three of the goals of the partnership are: 1) Make newsrooms in Michigan safe and inclusive for Indigenous journalists; 2) Make coverage of Indigenous issues and tribal affairs in Michigan more thorough, just and meaningful; and 3) Empower Indigenous people to report in their own communities and beyond.

Relatedly, Debra Haaland was recently confirmed as the first Native American Cabinet secretary, as the head of the Department of the Interior. Secretary Haaland is an enrolled member of the Laguna Pueblo and former congresswoman from New Mexico.

Over the years, I’ve been fortunate to be invited to numerous Indigenous naming ceremonies, pow wows and ghost suppers. At one such gathering, I was honored to be served my meal with the Elders, before everyone else. Visibly moved, I asked my host how his tribe viewed disability.

“In our culture there isn’t a word for disability. Difference is seen as part of life ... it’s not judged or blamed. What matters is the spirit, if the person behaves well toward others. If they act badly, having a disability won’t excuse them. Many of our health challenges are the result of poor eating habits, physical inactivity and systemic injustices.”

According to the last U.S. Census, 24% of Native Americans have a disability. To date, there have been twice as many deaths in Indigenous communities to COVID-19 than in white communities. Many Indigenous people live in rural areas that are unserved or under-served by health care services.

Currently, several Indigenous leaders serve on the Protect Michigan Commission. According to the state website, “The Protect Michigan Commission, comprised of a diverse group of leaders from across the state, will work to ensure that every Michigan resident has the most up-to-date information on the COVID-19 vaccine.”

For the unfamiliar, most Native American casinos, entertainment venues and tribal service buildings are ADA accessible. And, when it comes to physical access for persons with disabilities, even the woodland setting of our local summer pow wow in Peshawbestown is largely accessible. There’s accessible parking and restrooms, golf cart shuttle service to anywhere on the grounds — including food and merchandise vendors — and a shaded, ramped reserved seating area. The pow wow dancers are of all ages and abilities; several dancing with canes, walkers and arm crutches.

I’m looking forward to the Traverse City Human Rights Commission’s collaboration with the Indigenizing the News reporters. This is a rare opportunity to hear directly from Indigenous journalists on a wide range of topics. The motto of Indigenizing the News is “Because an education in Indigenous nations, histories, and contemporary lives is important for everyone.”

Contact Susan Odgers at odgersadapted@yahoo.com. She is a 34-year resident of Traverse City and has been using a wheelchair for 45 years. She is a faculty member of Northwestern Michigan College and a member of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists.

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