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 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 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.”
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.
An American Economic Association profile of Associate Professor Randall Akee traces his path to becoming a leading researcher of underrepresented groups and an advocate for bringing new perspectives to the field of economics. Akee’s interest in economics was piqued by a class at his all-Native-Hawaiian high school in the sugarcane plantation town where he grew up. He went on to earn economics degrees from Dartmouth, Yale and Harvard, and now focuses his research on Native and Indigenous populations as part of the public policy and American Indian studies faculty at UCLA. Akee recently helped launch the Association for Economic Research of Indigenous Peoples to advance the study of underrepresented groups within the field of economics. “One of the things I’m interested in is opening the door for more underrepresented minorities in the economics profession,” he said, noting that the economics of race or ethnicity is rarely accepted as its own valid field of study.
Associate Professor of Public Policy Randall Akee wrote an article for EconoFact about the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on indigenous populations and other disadvantaged communities. He explained that historical inequities in public funding have made indigenous peoples and African American and Latinx households more likely than white households to lack access to complete plumbing. New research indicates that “COVID-19 cases are more likely to occur in tribal communities with a higher proportion of homes lacking indoor plumbing.” He also noted that “COVID-19 cases were less likely to occur in tribal communities where households spoke English only,” suggesting that “access to relevant public health information in indigenous languages may play a key role in the spread of COVID-19 in some tribal communities.” Akee recommended developing better-targeted, context-specific policies for indigenous communities, including effective communication of public health warnings and provision of water supplies.
Associate Professor of Public Policy Randall Akee spoke to Digital Trends about the impact that “differential privacy” protections used by the U.S. Census Bureau could have on small Native populations. Increased concerns about compromising anonymity in its datasets have prompted the bureau to implement greater privacy measures. These include differential privacy, a data science method that involves introducing error, or “noise,” to protect individual records. The bureau hopes that its commitment to increased security will make people more willing to participate in the 2020 Census. However, some researchers worry that it is putting a higher value on privacy than access to reliable data. Akee spoke about the impact of privacy loss for smaller populations, like Alaska Natives. Tribal governments will have to decide their own level of comfort with potential release of information about their populations, he said.
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