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.
Associate Professor of Public Policy Randall Akee co-authored an article for the Brookings Institution on the nomination of the first Native American to hold a U.S. Cabinet position. If confirmed, New Mexico Congresswoman Deb Haaland would lead the Department of the Interior, which has oversight of federal lands and waterways as well as the plants, animals and natural resources located there and also manages the U.S. government’s relationship with Native American nations. “Rep. Haaland’s nomination marks a turning point in valuing the experiences, knowledge and leadership of Native American nations, which would have been unimaginable in previous presidential administrations,” wrote Akee and Robert Maxim, a Brookings research associate. They cautioned that “the day-to-day challenges many Native Americans face will be impossible to overcome through just a single nomination” but welcomed the opportunity to “move the Interior Department from a position of active harm toward Native American nations to one of mutual respect, partnership and understanding.”
Associate Professor of Public Policy Randall Akee spoke with CNN for an article on efforts by Indigenous people across North America to reclaim land — including the tribe at the heart of the Thanksgiving holiday. Descendants of the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe that broke bread with colonists four centuries ago are fighting for recognition and the return of land. They are part of a broader movement that is gaining steam as the country grapples with injustices committed against marginalized communities. While recognition, economics and sovereignty are all at play, the fight centers on getting Indigenous lands back in Indigenous hands. “The origin of being Indigenous is location and ties to the land,” Akee said.
In a U.S. News and World Report article, Associate Professor of Public Policy Randall Akee expressed concern about the way U.S. Census formulas count Native American communities. The 2020 census count closed on Oct. 15, two weeks earlier than the COVID-adjusted deadline of Oct. 31. Many experts are concerned that the early closure will exacerbate undercounting of Native American communities, which rely on a complete and accurate census count for federal funding and proportionate representation in voting districts. In 2010, Native Americans living on reservations were undercounted by 4.9%, more than twice the rate of other racial minorities. Over the last year, the Census Bureau has been tinkering with its formula, which aims to provide accurate data and protect individual privacy but also increases the risk of undercounting small populations. Akee explained that, despite improvements to the way the bureau handles Native American communities, concern remains. “I take them at their word that they’re really trying to remedy the problem,” he concluded.
In an interview with the Center for Public Integrity, Associate Professor of Public Policy Randall Akee explored how Indigenous people fit into the national discussion of racial justice in the United States. Akee noted the similarities between Black and Indigenous people when it comes to overly harsh policing and intrusion into communities of color. However, he explained that the inherent sovereignty of tribal nations is an additional layer of complexity that differentiates Indigenous people from other communities of color. There is allyship and alignment of some issues between Black Lives Matter and Indigenous communities, but Akee argued that Native American issues and those of other communities of color are “distinctly different legally, politically, socially and culturally.” Through his research, Akee has found that local conditions improve in Indigenous communities under self-governance. Equity for Indigenous peoples starts with sovereignty and reclaiming land, he said.
Associate Professor of Public Policy Randall Akee was featured in a Spokesman-Review article discussing the risks of undercounting Northwest tribal community populations. The Census Bureau announced that it will cut door-to-door counting short by a month, leaving census workers scrambling to meet the new deadline of Sept. 30. Indigenous people living on reservations were undercounted more than any other group in the 2010 census, the article noted. Tribal leaders fear that the shortened timeline could lead to an even more drastic undercount this year, resulting in less federal funding and other resources for tribes. Akee explained that the COVID-19 pandemic has stalled self-response rates. “There are so many competing messages about other things, and it’s hard for this to take hold in communities where people are worried about their economic stability and their actual health,” he said. “Filling out a census form is further down in people’s priorities.”