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.”
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 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.
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