Randall Akee, associate professor of public policy, is among those sharing this year’s research grants totaling more than $1 million from the Washington Center for Equitable Growth. The funding is for research relating to inequality’s impact on economic growth and stability. A study of “deaths of despair” among Native Americans, particularly women and girls, will be conducted by three academic researchers and Akee, who is chair of the American Indian Studies Interdepartmental Program at UCLA. In their funding proposal, the researchers said they plan to investigate why such deaths are proportionately higher for Native Americans than among other ethnic groups in the United States. Researchers will examine whether the known predictors of a death of despair for white constituents, especially men — joblessness, high rates of unemployment — are different than those for Native American women and girls. The study will also focus on the oil fracking industry and whether fracking in proximity to Native American lands induces more human trafficking activity. This, in turn, might also induce coping behaviors such as increased alcohol and substance use that could lead to higher rates of suicides among Native American women and girls, according to the research proposal. Equitable Growth has seeded more than $8.8 million to nearly 350 scholars through its competitive grants program since its founding in 2013. According to the organization’s news release, this year’s 42 grantees include economists and social scientists who currently serve as faculty or are postdoctoral scholars and Ph.D. students at U.S. colleges and universities, as well as scholars from government research agencies.
Associate Professor of Public Policy Randall Akee and Research Professor Paul Ong co-authored a commentary in Indian Country Today about the University of California’s decision to waive tuition for Native American students. “Not only will the plan begin to address some of the education barriers that marginalize American Indian and Alaska Native people, it is also an acknowledgement that UC has benefited enormously from the sale of lands that were stolen through various means from Indigenous peoples,” they wrote. Campuses in the UC system are located on parcels that rightfully belong to tribal nations and communities, they wrote, noting the role of the Morrill Act in the creation of land-grant colleges resourced by the sale of federal lands. The authors hope that the new program will “help to close the persistent educational attainment gap suffered by American Indians and Alaska Natives” and serve as a call to action to other public, land-grant institutions in the United States.
Associate Professor of Public Policy Randall Akee spoke to Indian Country Today about his recently published report on structural barriers that limit economic opportunity in indigenous communities. Co-authored by Akee and published by the Joint Economic Committee, a body that includes both members of the U.S. Senate and House, the report found that Native Americans are disproportionately underserved, economically vulnerable and limited in their access to pathways that build wealth. “The report puts a lot of the socioeconomic conditions of Native Americans, Alaska Natives, American Indians in perspective,” Akee said. “It does a great job of summarizing a number of different outcomes, a number of different domains, and puts it into a language that’s digestible and understandable for a broad swath of the population so that it’s not … caught up in jargonistic-type terms.” The report found that longstanding inequities have left indigenous communities more vulnerable to the negative impact of economic shocks and public health crises.
Associate Professor of Public Policy Randall Akee spoke to CNN about the University of California’s recent decision to waive tuition for Native American students in an effort to make the university system more affordable and accessible. As part of the UC Native American Opportunity Plan, tuition and fees will be waived for California residents who are members of federally recognized Native American, American Indian and Alaska Native tribes. Akee collaborated with UCLA Center for Neighborhood Knowledge Director Paul Ong and other scholars on a soon-to-be-published op-ed urging other land-grant universities to follow UC’s lead. “The UC system is leading the way in acknowledging its place and role in educating Indigenous people,” the authors wrote. “In the absence of similar programs in other locations, the UC system as a whole will gain a significant advantage in recruiting the best and brightest [American Indian or Alaska Native] students from around the country.”
A speaker series commemorating Native American Heritage Month will highlight the broad range of UCLA scholarship about issues related to Indigenous people. The series is designed to provide a less academic and more informal platform for Native American faculty to share their research and insights, said Associate Professor of Public Policy Randall Akee, who chairs UCLA’s American Indian studies interdepartmental program.
During the four-part virtual series, Indigenous scholars on the university’s faculty will give brief overviews of their current research, then conduct interactive discussions with the moderator and audience members. Topics will include the experiences of Native Americans in higher education and the relationship between Indigenous groups and land-grant institutions.
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SCHEDULE OF SPEAKERS
- Friday, Nov. 5, 2 p.m. — Juliann Anesi (Samoan), assistant professor of gender studies
- Friday, Nov. 12, 2 p.m. — Desi Small-Rodriguez (Northern Cheyenne and Chicana), assistant professor of sociology and American Indian studies
- Friday, Nov. 19, 2 p.m. — Kyle Mays (Black and Saginaw Chippewa), assistant professor of African American studies, American Indian studies and history
- Friday, Dec. 3, 2 p.m. — Nanibaa’ Garrison (Dine), associate professor at the UCLA Institute for Society and Genetics, and the division of general internal medicine
Associate Professor of Public Policy Randall Akee was featured in a Los Angeles Times article about the federal government’s failure to address the need for clean water and sanitation on Native American reservations. “Federal funding for reservations is not meeting needs,” Akee said. “It’s just woefully underfunded at the federal level, and tribes for a long, long time have not had the resources to fully develop these resources themselves.” Many Native American households lack indoor plumbing, and they often must rely on donations of drinking water when pipes fail. The government has deemed many of the necessary sanitation improvement projects “infeasible” because of the high cost, leaving rural indigenous communities with limited access to clean drinking water. “Frankly, it’s a responsibility of the federal government, a trust responsibility of treaties and hundreds of years of commitments,” Akee said. “There has been a failure to fully live up to those commitments.”
Associate Professor of Public Policy Planning Randall Akee co-authored a Brookings article with KJ Ward about the lack of available data on experiences of racism in the COVID-19 era. While the media acknowledges instances of hate crimes and racial violence that have been exacerbated by the pandemic, they are often dismissed as outliers and fail to be the subject of meaningful research. “In the absence of systematic data on this topic, we are left to these anecdotal instances, and that makes it much more difficult to identify pervasive patterns and behaviors in society,” Akee wrote. Furthermore, smaller race groups are often excluded in national surveys or are clustered in a general “other” category. A new survey explicitly oversampled for small race and ethnic groups and illustrated the pervasiveness of racism toward all non-white groups. Akee argued that collecting data by race and ethnicity is the first step to identifying, diagnosing and dismantling systemic racism in society.
Associate Professor of Public Policy Randall Akee guest-edited a special issue of the American Indian Culture and Research Journal that focuses on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on indigenous populations. “COVID-19 and Indigenous Peoples: Impact of and Response to the Pandemic” is the first of two special issues that include articles, reviews and commentaries by American Indian scholars and researchers in the field. American Indian communities have been hit disproportionately hard by the pandemic, experiencing death rates 1.5 times higher and infection rates 3.5 times greater than those for non-Hispanic whites. Akee and co-editors Stephanie Carroll and Chandra Ford wrote in the introduction that “the structural racism of colonialism is the driver of myriad negative outcomes for Indigenous Peoples, and the effects of COVID-19 are no exception.” The journal issue highlights the deep impact of the pandemic on indigenous communities as well as their resilience, and points to the importance of self-determination in preserving the well-being of these communities. The issue also compares the public health responses in different countries and how factors including racism, ableism, historical injustice and unfair resource allocation have contributed to the impact of the pandemic on different indigenous communities. The authors stress the need for public health responses that are culturally appropriate and respectful in order to support indigenous communities and their traditions. Akee said the forthcoming second special issue on COVID-19 will feature “emerging, innovative models of health care, access and service for effective public health responses to the needs of Indigenous communities.”
Associate Professor of Public Policy Randall Akee spoke with Marketplace about the importance of prioritizing Native American communities in public health initiatives. The new COVID-19 relief law will give $15 billion in grants to enhance vaccine distribution, with special consideration for underserved populations including Native Americans. The death rate from COVID-19 among Native Americans is nearly twice as high as it is for white Americans, and Native Americans are three times as likely to get the virus as white people. According to Akee, a lot of the public health funding will go beyond vaccines into areas like infrastructure. “One really important aspect is almost a billion dollars in funding that’s allocated for broadband access, which again, in the age of COVID, is incredibly important for education and the access to public health information,” Akee explained. “The vaccine is important, but mitigating the spread of COVID-19 will take more than just two shots to the arm.”
Associate Professors of Public Policy Randall Akee and Sarah Reber co-authored a Brookings article about the disproportionate impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on American Indian and Alaska Native (AIAN) populations. Research has found that AIAN people are dying of COVID-19 at much higher rates and at younger ages than other groups, with a death rate comparable to white people 20 to 30 years older. Akee and Reber noted that accurate data on this population is lacking because of difficulty estimating the size of small communities and miscategorization of AIAN people as other races and ethnicities. Nevertheless, available data shows that the age-adjusted mortality rate is higher for AIAN people than for any other group, and it is more than double the death rate for whites and Asians. Reber and Akee argued that the history of racism against Native populations underscores the importance of prioritizing the vaccination of American Indians and Alaska Natives of all ages as soon as possible.