Loss of Tribal Elders Due to COVID-19 Decimating Indigenous Populations; Colorado Revamps Common-Law Marriage Requirements, Making Them More Friendly for LGBTQ Couples; and More

Loss of tribal elders due to COVID-19 decimating Indigenous populations.

The Muscogee, Navajo, Blackfeet Nation, White Mountain Apache and Choctaw tribes are among the many communities of Indigenous people suffering irreparable losses due to the COVID-19 pandemic, New York Times reporter Jack Healy has reported.

Already impacted by infection rates and deaths at disproportionately higher rates than whites, Indigenous people are suffering another blow they could have a hard time recovering from: the loss of tribal elders. In the Navajo Nation, for example, 565 of the reservation’s 869 deaths are among people 60 and older. Exact numbers of deaths for Indigenous elders as a whole across the United States are harder to come by, however, since more than 70% of Native tribe members live outside of reservations in incredibly rural areas across the country.

While all deaths due to COVID-19 are tragic, the loss of tribal elders is hitting Indigenous populations especially hard because these elders often know the most about the tribe’s history, practices and cultures — knowledge that isn’t always passed down to younger generations as well as it could be. So, when these individuals pass, part of the history and culture of the tribe is permanently lost as well.

According to Healy, many tribes are reeling from this loss of language and tradition — including traditional medicine techniques and ceremonial practices — which can never be recovered.

“It takes your breath away,” Ira Taken Alive, a member of the Lakota tribe who had recently lost both of his parents, his grandmother and a cherished uncle, told Healy. “The amount of knowledge they held, and connection to our past.”

“Tribal nations and volunteer groups are now trying to protect their elders as a mission of cultural survival,” Healy wrote. However, even when tribal elders are prioritized for vaccines, getting these individuals vaccinated won’t be easy. Many tribes live in areas without easy access to roads or even electricity, and are also distrustful of government healthcare due to abuses they’ve suffered at the hands of federal officials in the past.


LGBT couple/common law marriage

Colorado revamps common-law marriage requirements, making them more friendly for LGBTQ couples.

Despite marriage equality being legalized in the United States in 2015, a number of same-sex couples still opt for common-law marriage over a formal walk-down-the-aisle wedding ceremony. The Denver Post has reported that the state of Colorado is trying to make the process easier, more modern and inclusive for those individuals by adopting the first major common-law marriage reform in the country. 

According to reporter Shelly Bradbury, the state’s supreme court justices have “created a new legal standard for common-law marriage that is more flexible and gender neutral.”

Bradbury said previous forms of proof that were used in the courts to determine whether a couple was living in a common-law marriage (such as co-owning property, filing joint tax returns or taking a partner’s last name) will now be replaced with a more thorough look at “whether the couple mutually intended to enter a marital relationship, and whether the couple’s subsequent conduct supported that decision.”

In the court’s opinion, Justice Monica Marquez wrote “The significance of a given factor will depend on the individual, the relationship and the broader circumstances, including cultural differences … For example, one same-sex couple’s use of the label ‘partner’ may convey ‘spouse,’ while another’s may not.”

Bradbury noted that the previously used factors to determine the validity of a common-law marriage request (such as whether a couple presented themselves publicly as married, celebrated anniversaries together or shared bills) will still be considered by the court, but only in the broader scope in helping to examine the context of a couple’s relationship.

Only nine states in the country currently recognize a form of common-law marriage: Colorado, Iowa, Kansas, Montana, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas and Utah. That said, many officials feel it should be done away with entirely, calling it outdated and unnecessary. In a separate but concurring opinion, Justice Melissa Hart argued that common-law marriage should be abolished in Colorado, saying the process of courts judging whether common-law marriage requirements have been met or not is “often unpredictable and inconsistent.”

While the Colorado Supreme Court’s ruling makes the process of determining whether a couple is living in a common-law marriage or not fairer for all citizens, critics worry that by eliminating the “requirement checklist” that judges use to make their ruling, the process of getting a common-law marriage could become even more involved and complicated than simply getting legally married. 

Others, however, applaud the decision. 

“The same standards should be applied to different-sex couples and same-sex couples, but you should recognize the reality of LGBTQ relationships,” said Shelly Skeen, senior attorney at the nonprofit advocacy group Lambda Legal in an interview with The Denver Post. “That’s exactly what the court did.”



D.I. Fast Facts


Number of individuals the U.S. Justice Department has opened investigations on following the attempted insurrection at the Capitol on Jan. 6. According to officials, more than 70 individuals have also already been charged.


26 years

Amount of time Eddie Lee Howard served in prison in Mississippi for a crime he’s just been exonerated of committing. Howard, who is Black, was convicted and sentenced with the death penalty for raping and murdering an 84-year-old white woman. The only thing tying Howard to the crime was a bite mark on the victim’s leg — evidence that has been shown to no longer be a viable means of proving a person’s identity. Howard has proclaimed his innocence all along and said the new verdict proves he was wrongly convicted of the crime in 1994.
CBS News


$100 Million

Amount Starbucks has committed to spend over the next four years to support small businesses and community development projects in diverse communities in an effort to “advance racial equity and environmental resilience.” The spending will be centered in 12 metropolitan areas including Seattle, Atlanta, Detroit, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, Minneapolis, New Orleans, New York City, Philadelphia, the San Francisco Bay Area and Washington D.C.
Seattle Times


Related: For more recent diversity and inclusion news, click here.