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Pulitzer Center Update October 19, 2021

Imported Pandemics, from the Pilgrims to COVID-19

Trail of tears

Connecting the dots between the history of disease in the genocide of Native Americans all the way...

Shall Furnish Medicine art by Zach Kennah
Image by Zach Kennah.

'For the natives, they are near all dead of the smallpox, so the Lord hath cleared our title…'

In the trailer for “Shall Furnish Medicine,” the mesmerizing podcast from The Modern West, grantee Melodie Edwards recalls the shock so many of us felt in early 2020, about the deadly disease that had crossed the ocean and was now killing Americans. 
“But for some people, this story of a terrifying illness crossing an ocean and arriving to kill the ones you love wasn’t a surprise at all,” Edwards says. “For Native Americans, it felt like a terrible déjà vu.”
In the series you’ll learn of pandemics brought by European settlers across five centuries, with Savannah Maher, of the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe, and Taylar Dawn Stagner, who is Arapaho and Eastern Shoshone, reporting on the experiences of their own tribes and others. You’ll hear dramatic readings from the journals of Pilgrim leader William Bradford, describing the slaughter through infectious diseases of the Wampanoag people near Plymouth Plantation as the will of God. You’ll hear the inspiring story of Susan La Flesche, the daughter of an Omaha tribal chief who graduated top of her class from Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania, in 1889, and then spent the rest of her life battling the waves of epidemics killing her people, from cholera and influenza to dysentery, trachoma, and tuberculosis.
The title of the series, Shall Furnish Medicine, comes from the promises of medical care, largely ignored, in the treaties between the U.S. government and Indian tribes during the 19th century. You’ll learn about those failures—but also about real gains in the health of Native Americans as tribes took advantage of reform laws enacted with the help of unlikely allies, such as former President Richard M. Nixon and activists from the American Indian Movement. In the third and last installment, due out on October 27, 2021, we’ll hear from the front lines of the current pandemic, one that saw Native Americans hospitalized at five times the average for whites. 
Wyoming Public Radio designed this project putting Indigenous storytellers, experts, and front-line workers at the center, with an emphasis on innovative reporting techniques and a commitment to giving coverage of current crises the deep historical context they require. That approach is central to the Pulitzer Center’s mission overall. I hope you’ll explore how it works in the dozens of projects we’ve helped support on Indigenous rights, in the United States and around the world. 

Jon Sawyer's signature


Multiple Pulitzer Center-supported projects were honored at the 2021 Online Journalism AwardsSiona: Amazon’s Defenders Under Threat by The New Yorker was described as “a beautiful, cinematic experience showing the real-life consequences of a decades-long war and the native people still struggling to clear their ancestral homeland of deadly land mines.” Inside Xinjiang’s Prison State, also from The New Yorker, was hailed by judges for using “brilliant” methods to tell an “incredible story.” 

“While we have heard about this story before we have never seen it like this,” the judges said.

Grist and The Texas Observer were honored for the AI-powered Waves of Abandonment, which tracks Permian Basin wells likely to be left abandoned by bankrupt oil and gas companies and the effects those wells will have on local landowners. 

This message first appeared in the October 19, 2021, edition of the Pulitzer Center's weekly newsletter. Subscribe today.

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