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Americans Urged To Stay Vigilant Even As COVID-19 Cases Decline; COVID-19 Surge In Indonesia Proves Deadly For Hundreds Of Health Care Workers; Taiwan Defiant As China Calls For "Peaceful" Reunification; Czech Republic Opposition Coalition Defeats Prime Minister's Ruling Populist Party; Austrian Chancellor Resigns Amid Corruption Scandal; U.S. Delegation Meeting With Taliban Representatives In Doha; Women In Afghanistan Protest And Return To Work, School And The Streets. Aired 4-5a ET

Aired October 10, 2021 - 04:00   ET




KIM BRUNHUBER, CNN ANCHOR AND CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Taiwan, marks national day with an unprecedented show of force. Missiles and the military on display a day after fiery rhetoric from the Chinese president.

Polls are open in Iraq, the war-torn country is in desperate need of change but little is expected from this election.

Plus, stories of courage, defiance and overcoming obstacles, Afghan women living under the Taliban rule.

Welcome to all of you watching us here in the United States, Canada and around the world. I'm Kim Brunhuber. This is CNN NEWSROOM.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): Live from CNN Center, this is CNN NEWSROOM with Kim Brunhuber.

BRUNHUBER: The U.S. may be turning a corner in the fight against COVID-19. On average, daily new infections are at their lowest level since August. Hospitalizations and deaths are also declining.

But experts warn those trends might not last if Americans get complacent. The director of the National Institutes of Health told Jim Acosta about his concerns as winter approaches in the U.S.


DR. FRANCIS COLLINS, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTES OF HEALTH: Well, if you just look at the shape of the curve, you would say we went over the top, which was a terrible top and we're starting downward now but I can't be absolutely assured how steep that downward slope will be or whether we might encounter another bump. So this is not the time for people to let down their guard. We are in a circumstance where there are more people gathering indoors. Cold weather's coming. Schools are in place. So it is an opportunity for this virus and we should think of the virus as the enemy, not anybody else, to have a party and to take advantage of those moments where we begin to think, we're OK. We are not yet OK.

I know people are tired of hearing that. I know they're tired of having to wear masks when they're indoors. I know they're tired of all of the arguments that are going on about masks in schools, which certainly have a lot of science behind them.

But this is not the moment to say, OK, we're done. Like you say, we went to that movie before, it didn't have a good ending. This time, let's try and do it right.


BRUNHUBER: Experts say the shot is the best way to protect against the virus. Just over 56 percent of Americans are vaccinated so far and only 35 states have vaccinated half their residents.

Hopeful signs there but grim numbers elsewhere as Brazil reports more than 600,000 people dead from COVID-19. It's the only second country to pass that threshold after the United States. Brazil's president has been heavily criticized. He has downplayed the dangers and has openly refused to get vaccinated.

Russia, reporting its highest daily COVID death toll so far, with nearly 975 deaths on Saturday. It is the fourth day in a row the country has reported more than 900 deaths.

Authorities are blaming the steep rise on the country's low vaccination rate, as well as the spread of the highly contagious Delta variant. Now just over 30 percent of Russians have been fully vaccinated.

Indonesia is one of the countries worst hit by the pandemic. Daily case numbers are much lower now than they were months ago. A second wave took an especially heavy toll on the country's health care workers. CNN's Paula Hancocks has our story.


PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): At the front lines of Indonesia's battle with COVID-19, 35-year-old Dr. Riken Mediana Eka Putri, pregnant with her second child, became a victim of the very disease she was fighting.

ADITYO WIBOWO, DR. MEDIANA'S HUSBAND (through translator): She contracted the virus on the 4th of July and passed away on the 29th of the same month. Our 8-year-old and I were also positive. We recovered but not my wife, who was 34 weeks pregnant.

HANCOCKS: She was one of 208 Indonesian doctors who died in July alone, the highest monthly toll since the start of the pandemic. And one of nearly 800 doctors who have succumb to coronavirus in the country so far, according to the Indonesian Medical Association.

DAENG FAQIH, CHAIRMAN, INDONESIAN MEDICAL ASSOCIATION (through translator): In July, doctors were exhausted. The COVID cases were increasing sharply, so was the workload.

HANCOCKS: Overwhelmed hospitals facing a severe shortage of beds and oxygen were forced to turn patients away as the highly contagious Delta variant swept through the country. The problem further exacerbated by a massive surge in deaths among health care workers.

WIBOWO: When many health care workers were testing positive for COVID, my wife risked her life, replacing several colleagues who had fallen ill.

HANCOCKS: Dr. Riken was not vaccinated. The government's approval in late June to start inoculating pregnant women came too late for her.


HANCOCKS (voice-over): But even those fully vaccinated with the most wildly available vaccine in Indonesia, China's Sinovac, were not always safe.

Dr. Sylvi Febriza Darori is a pediatrician who lost her brother to COVID. Despite being fully immunized, her brother, who is also a general practitioner, caught the virus in late July and unknowingly spread it to his love ones.

SYLVI FEBRIZA DARORI, SISTER OF COVID-19 VICTIM (through translator): Thirteen members of my family were infected including my father, my mother, my brother's family, his wife and his 2-year-old child.

HANCOCKS: Though numbers have now started to improve, fatalities among doctors at the peak of the second wave left a serious dent in the health care system of the world's fourth most populous country which already had one of the lowest doctor-to-patient ratios in Southeast Asia with just four doctors for 10,000 people.

EDHIE RAHMAT, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, PROJECT HOPE INDONESIA: The new medical doctor actually is a little bit hesitant to join the recruitment at the moment because of the situation.

HANCOCKS: The government took steps to try to fix the problem offering booster shots of Moderna's vaccine to frontline workers. Vaccination rates among the general public, which were abysmally low, have also risen steadily since July.

The country is one of just 8th in the world to have administered more than 100 million doses of vaccines, but the distribution is uneven. In the capital, Jakarta, about 70 percent are fully vaccinated. Elsewhere in the country, that number is just 16 percent, putting doctors at risk -- Paula Hancocks, CNN, Seoul.


BRUNHUBER: Protests against the COVID health pass in Italy, turning violent on Saturday, as tensions mounted between demonstrators and police in Rome. The protests, come days before Italy is set to expand the green pass system to all workplaces.

The pass is a certificate, showing whether someone has been vaccinated, tested negative or recently recovered from the virus.

Thousands of people also took to the streets in Switzerland on Saturday, to protest pandemic rules there. In Geneva, some demonstrators held signs, denouncing the Swiss COVID health pass.

As of last month, the passes are required to enter bars, restaurants and fitness centers.

Taiwan put its military on full display Sunday in an extraordinary show of defiance against Beijing, trademarking the anniversary of the Chinese revolution. It allowed Taiwan to show some of the most advanced, sophisticated weapons. There was nothing subtle about it.

Xi Jinping infuriated Taipei when he called for Taiwan's peaceful reunification of the mainland. CNN's Will Ripley was at the national day parade and has more from Taipei.


WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This may not match the massive scale of military parades in Mainland China but, for Taiwan, it is an extraordinary sight, four kinds of domestically produced missiles rolling through the capital in front of Taiwan's presidential palace, an ominous sign of escalating regional tensions.

Taiwan's military has never played a more prominent role in recent history as it has this year. While the overall atmosphere is festive, the island, is increasingly, concerned about the behavior of Mainland China.

Provocative behavior, more than 100 planes entering Taiwan's self- declared Air Defense Identification Zone this month. With those aerial incursions, come new propaganda videos from the Taiwanese air force, vowing to defend their national sovereignty.

And the weapons they used to plan to defend their sovereignty on display here. Taiwan is vowing to up its national spending on defense by billions of dollars. In 2020, alone, saying that they bought $5 billion of weapons from the United States, including F-16 fighters and Patriot missiles.

They're also developing their own weapons on the island, increasingly, calling on the support of the United States and other democratic regional allies, to come to Taiwan's defense.

Taiwan's president, Tsai Ing-wen, speaking in front of the presidential palace, laying out the situation, as a fight for the future not just of Taiwan but the world.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) TSAI (through translator): At this moment, free and democratic countries have been alerted to the expansion of authoritarianism. And Taiwan is on the forefront of the defense line of fellow democracies.


RIPLEY: Defending that future, coming at a cost, Taiwan, having to up its military spending, even as they struggle to get a volunteer military force, after phasing out most mandatory conscription on the island.

Wil these weapons and the help of the United States be enough to defend against the threat from an increasingly assertive Mainland China?


RIPLEY: As President Xi Jinping vows to, in his, words reunify the mainland with Taiwan. Beijing has long claimed the self governing island as its own territory, for almost 70 years, since the end of China's civil war. Taiwan points out, they've never been ruled by the Communist Party of China and, say they plan to keep it that way, putting their military on full display here -- Will Ripley, CNN, Taiwan.


BRUNHUBER: To Iraq now, where possible low turnout and calls for boycotts threaten to undermine the country's election. Voting to decide the next parliament and prime minister has been underway for about four hours now. Ethnic and religious fault lines and corruption, unemployment and Iran's influence are among the main issues.

Here's what some Iraqis were saying going into the vote.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): The elections need to be, first of all, impartial. That is something we ask for. It is been 16 years. We do not want old faces, we want new faces, the youth.

We want youthful energy, someone to sympathize with the youth. We, as youth, want someone that represents us in the parliament.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Even if there is great degree of confidence, participation is still necessary, even if there are interferences. There are always interferences but that does not mean that the whole population should not participate in the vote, even if it is 20 million or 30 million that participate.

People have to participate in order to change things.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Why won't I vote?

Because I have no faith in the people running for the elections.

Those we elected, what have they done?

The same thing. Look at the garbage, the same thing, the filth.

Where are the projects, the previous government's projects?

Where are they?


BRUNHUBER: For the latest, we have CNN's Sam Kiley tracking events from Abu Dhabi.

Sam, this election was brought on by government corruption, lack of public services. You'd think this would be a great day for those Iraqis demanding change from what we just heard there but it doesn't seem that that's the case.

Why not?

SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, as you rightly point out, Kim, this goes back to 2019 and the massive demonstrations that we covered there, a lot of them against corruption, inequality but also the heavy influence of Iran and importantly in the Iraqi context a lot of those demonstrators were Shia.

Iran being a Shia dominated theocracy. There's a huge movement, particularly among young people, members of the middle classes, caught fire in 2019, resulting in the deaths of some 600 people in killings conducted against those demonstrators and others who have been disappeared politically.

So a very fraught period that caused the collapse of one government and these, if you like, premature, early elections. Against that background though we are now seeing what is anticipated to be a very low turnout, particularly among the sorts of people that were demonstrating in order to change their government.

And part of the reason for that, I think, Kim, is there has been in a sense a level of state capture, particularly within the bureaucracies of Iraq, particularly by the pro Iranian, hardline Shia parties.

And now the leader of a different Shia bloc looks like he might win, by no means a majority, but the larger share. He has been a political chameleon but is opposed to the Iranian influence. But there won't be any clear winner here.

BRUNHUBER: As you say, Iran has vested interest in the results. So, too, does the U.S.

For President Biden, especially after what happened in Afghanistan, what's a good outcome?

KILEY: Well, stability think is what the regional players really want to see in Iraq. From the United States' perspective there's also interesting role Iraq has been playing in reaching some kind of -- facilitating the early stages of diplomatic contacts between Iran and Saudi Arabia, trying to de-escalate regional tensions separate really from the Biden administration.

From the American administration's perspective, U.S. troops in terms of combat role are out or leaving Iraq. There's not going to be a flood of refugees or anything like that in the wake of the U.S. withdrawal, really running in parallel with what we've seen in Afghanistan but in very, very different circumstances.

The war against the so-called Islamic State is very much handled by the Iraqis and U.S. allies in northern Syria. So stability really is what the Biden administration is looking for.

BRUNHUBER: All right. We'll continue to follow the results there. Sam Kiley, really appreciate it.


BRUNHUBER: Opposition groups in the Czech Republic appear to have eked out a razor thin victory in parliamentary elections.


BRUNHUBER (voice-over): Cheers erupted in Prague as the center right coalition narrowly won the majority in Saturday's vote. The leaders of the opposition groups are pledging to work together to form a new government.

PETR FIALA, SPCLU COALITION LEADER (through translator): Ladies and gentlemen, friends, the democratic coalitions have a majority in the lower house. Now we have a chance to create a majority government. That is the change. We are the change. You are the change.


BRUNHUBER: So if they succeed, it will end the prime minister's grip on power, even though his populist group won the most votes of any party.

The father of Pakistan's nuclear program has died so while his own country hailed him as a hero, Western nations saw him as a dangerous threat to security. We'll have more on his life next.

And why passengers were forced to evacuate their plane after a serious incident at New York's LaGuardia airport. We'll have more on that coming up. Stay with us.





BRUNHUBER: Pakistani officials are paying tribute to the man known as the father of the nation's nuclear weapons program. Abdul Qadeer Khan, known as AQ, passed away at hospital. While he was hailed as a hero in Pakistan, he was seen as a dangerous threat by the west. Pakistan's prime minister calls him a national icon. He was 85.

Sophia Saifi joins us now. A hero to some, a villain to others, tell us more about the man and his controversial legacy.

SOPHIA SAIFI, CNN PRODUCER: Kim, he is known as being the father of Pakistan's nuclear program. It's an honor that is revered here in Pakistan. He is revered across the political spectrum, across all ethnicities.

Pakistanis seldom unite to praise many of their public figures. But he is one who did unite Pakistanis. He does have a controversial legacy. He was known and was accused by the United States and the European Union for a vast -- for heading a vast nuclear proliferation program, which shared nuclear secrets with North Korea, with Libya, with Iran.

And he had been placed under house arrest by Pakistan's then leader in 2004, which was lifted in 2009. However, he had -- his movements had been severely restricted, partially due to his safety but also under fears that he might share more information with other parties.

He is being afforded a state funeral in Pakistan. There's been a notification announced that all Pakistani flags will be flown at half mast throughout the country. There's been an outpouring of tributes for the man who is said to have strengthened Pakistan's defenses in a hostile neighborhood with neighboring India, which has long been a foe of Pakistan, becoming a nuclear state as well in the late '90s.

Pakistan was strengthened, according to many Pakistanis. Most Pakistanis love him. A state funeral will be held at an iconic and large mosque in Istanbul. Yes, a complicated legacy but someone, as you said, who is hailed as a hero and a villain -- Kim.

BRUNHUBER: Sophia Saifi in Pakistan, thank you so much.

Now turning to political turmoil in central Europe. Efforts are underway to designate a successor to Austria's high profile anti- immigration chancellor Sebastian Kurz. He stepped town after his office was raided by prosecutors investigating allegations of bribery and breach of trust.

Opposition parties have threatened to bring a vote of no confidence against him next week. Salma Abdelaziz has the story from London.

Take us through the events that led to this.

SALMA ABDELAZIZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. Prosecutors raided the office of Mr. Kurz. He and nine other officials linked to him are under investigation for allegations of bribery and corruption.

Essentially the allegations are that public funds were used to obtain a favorable poll for Kurz and to publish that poll in the media. It's the second time Kurz has been forced to end his tenure before it was completed and the second time that it has led to corruption. So very serious concerns about his ability to lead, about his

legitimacy to lead. Mr. Kurz denying these allegations but stepping down, he says, to give his country a sense of stability at this time.

But this has larger implications, Kim, beyond Austria, which is wrangling to see who leads the country next. Kurz has proposed someone but we'll see if it happens. Germany is looking to Kurz because he is a young, charismatic figure at a time when center right parties are failing and lagging behind in polls.

At age 31, Kurz was the youngest or among the youngest democratically elected leaders in the world. He was seen to really help this party galvanize its supporters at a time when there was strong anti- immigration sentiment across the country and across parts of Europe.


ABDELAZIZ: I was in Berlin last month during the German elections. And there was a shock defeat for the Christian Democratic Union of Angela Merkel. German politicians were looking to what's happening in Austria because that's a center right party, able to form a coalition with the Green Party in Austria.

That combination of conservative politics and progressive politics is what they're looking at and looking to. So all of that puts it into question.

Then the larger concern here, Kim, is, because the center right parties are able to galvanize both the Left and the Right, does that mean moving toward more extreme far right parties for those in the voting public who can't find a relevant center right party for them?

A lot of questions about politics at large here. For now, Austria looking for someone to lead after Kurz.

BRUNHUBER: All right. Thank you so much, Salma Abdelaziz. We appreciate it.

An airline passenger was taken into custody Saturday after a security incident forced a plane to make an emergency landing at New York's LaGuardia Airport. Social media video shows people standing on the tarmac and law enforcement responding.

But it isn't clear whether the video shows the passenger placed in custody. Other travelers alerted the flight crew and captain about the suspicious and erratic behavior. They're monitoring the situation. There's no reason to believe anyone is in danger.

Afghan women face harsh conditions since the Taliban took over the country. But many remain defiant. We'll look at their challenges and courage.

Plus is Columbus Day on the way out?

The White House says no, even as the country recognizes Indigenous Peoples' Day for the first time. (MUSIC PLAYING)




BRUNHUBER: Mourners from Afghanistan's Shia community have been holding funerals and burying their dead after a suicide attack killed at least 46 people on Friday. ISIS-K claimed responsibility for the explosion, which ripped through a Shia mosque in the northern Afghan city of Kunduz.

That is the latest attack since the terror group seized control of Afghanistan a month ago.

Meanwhile senior Taliban representatives have been meeting with a U.S. delegation in Doha. It is the first meeting of its kind since the U.S. withdrew from Afghanistan at the end of August.

The Taliban want the international community to unfreeze funds belonging to Afghanistan, saying that would stabilize the country, which is in the global community's best interests.

The U.S. State Department say the Doha meetings are a continuation of pragmatic talks on vital national interests. Those issues include women's rights and safe passage out of the country for Americans and other foreign nationals.

Meanwhile women in Kabul are taking a stand as the Taliban attempt to roll back their rights. Clarissa Ward reports on the courage these women are showing.


CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A handful of women stand quietly but defiantly. They're here to protest the Taliban's de facto ban on girls going to school after fifth grade, a small act of great courage.

Taliban fighters start to pour in, their heavily-armed presence a menacing question mark. A new arrival appears unsure of whether to get out of the car. For a moment, it seems the Taliban may have come to protect the women but the illusion is quickly shattered.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Speaking foreign language).

WARD (voice-over): Someone from the Taliban has just come in telling everyone to put away their cameras, it's getting a little tense over there. A senior Talib rips a phone out of one woman's hands, these men shove journalists back. We try to keep filming but the Taliban don't want the world to see.

WARD: They're ripping the women's posters.

"No, put it away. Put it away."

WARD (voice-over): A machine gun burst sends a clear message, the protest is over. Maunadin Nasser Talal (ph) tells us, he is the head of the Taliban's intelligence services in Kabul and that the women did not have permission to protest.

(on camera): Why does a small group of women asking for their right to be educated threaten you so much?

WARD (voice-over): "I respect women's rights, I respect human rights," he says. "If I didn't respect women you wouldn't be standing here."

Would you have given them permission if they had asked for one?

"Yes, of course," he says, "we would have."

But permissions are illusive and previous protests have met a similar fate. On the streets of Herhana (ph) neighborhood, the consequences of one recent demonstration can still be seen. At almost every beauty salon, images of women's faces have been defaced as if to erase them from public life completely. The women inside this salon are too scared to appear on camera.


(Speaking foreign language).

How are you?

WARD (voice-over): I asked them about the posters outside.

(on camera): Who did it?


WARD: The Taliban did it?


WARD (voice-over): "The Taliban came and drove away the protesters. Then they cursed us and said to remove the posters," they tell me.

"They told us to put on a burqa and sit in our homes."

But this city is full of brave women, like Arzo Khaliqyar, who refuse to do that. The activist and mother of five says she was forced to become a taxi driver when her husband was murdered one year ago, leaving behind his car but little else.

(on camera): Tell me a little bit about how life has changed for you since the Taliban took power?

ARZO KHALIGYAR, TAXI DRIVER (through translator): A lot of changes, too many. I'm sorry -- I'm sorry.

WARD: It's OK. Take your time. It's OK. KHALIGYAR: Since the Taliban regime has come to power, it has become very difficult.

WARD (voice-over): She offers to take us for a ride. It's another small act of courageous resistance.


WARD (voice-over): While the Taliban have not officially banned women from driving, she says she has received threats and that the militants hit her car two weeks ago as a warning.

(on camera): I see the men. They stare at you.


WARD: They look at you --


WARD (voice-over): It's not long before she picks up a fare. Usually she prefers to take women and stay in areas she's familiar with.

(on camera): Are you aware of the risks that you're taking when you go out every day and do your work?

KHALIGYAR: Yes, and some places where I see Taliban checkpoints, I'm forced to go through a street or change my route. But I accepted this risk for the sake of my children.

WARD (voice-over): On the other side of town, English teacher Atifa Watanyar is also working hard to give her students a better future.

ATIFA WATANYAR, TEACHER: Please open your books --

WARD (voice-over): The past year has not been easy. In May, a horrific bombing targeted the Syed Al-Shahada school where she teaches, taking more than 80 innocent lives.

(on camera): So you were here when the explosions happened?

WATANYAR: Yes, I was in front of the door.

WARD: You were in front of the door, did you see it with your own eyes?

WATANYAR: Yes, I saw a very huge explosion in front of the other door.

WARD (voice-over): Incredibly, the school reopened. But weeks later, the Taliban swept to power and announced that, for the time being, from 6th through 12th grade, only boys should come to school.

WARD: It's just very striking that a bomb was not able to stop these girls coming to school --

WATANYAR: Yes -- WARD: But now, the Taliban has been able to stop them from coming to school.

WATANYAR: Yes, it's true. Every day I see Taliban in the streets I become -- I'd be afraid.

WARD: But you're still coming here every day, you're still teaching?

WATANYAR: Yes, what should we do?

What should we do?

It's just the thing that we can do for our children, for our daughters, for our girls.

WARD (voice-over): In the 5th grade classroom, the girls are excited to test their English skills.



WARD (on camera): I want you to raise your hand if you love school.


Everybody loves school.

WARD (voice-over): This may well be the last year they get to come and study, yet they are still full of hope for the future.

WARD: Raise your hand to tell me what you want to be when you grow up.

What do you want to be?


WARD: Doctor, OK.

Who else wants to be a doctor?

Oh, wow. There are a lot of doctors.

WARD (voice-over): Sixteen-year-old Sanam (ph) used to have dreams, too. She wanted to be a dentist. The explosion at her school left her with serious injuries but she was brave enough to go back for the sake, she says, of her close friend who could not.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): I felt that I must go back and study for the peace of her soul. I must study and build my country so that I can make her wishes and dreams come true.

WARD (on camera): So right now you cannot go to school. How does that make you feel?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): I feel all of my dreams are crushed and buried, for I won't be allowed to go to school and study. All my motivation is completely gone.

WARD: It's OK, take a minute. It's OK. If you want to stop, we can stop. It's OK.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Speaking foreign language).

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): No, Taliban -- the Taliban are the people who -- they are the cause of the situation I am in right now. My spirit is gone. My dreams are buried.

WARD (voice-over): And yet recently, she has started to read her books again and study a little bit every day, just one more small act of great courage -- Clarissa Ward, CNN, Kabul.


BRUNHUBER: Afghan evacuees are once again leaving Ramstein Air Base in Germany, bound for the United States. This flight departed Saturday, carrying a few hundred evacuees to Philadelphia.

The flights were paused for weeks due to confirmed measles cases among evacuees, who had already reached the United States.


BRUNHUBER: Officials say approximately 1,000 evacuees will be flying out on a daily basis until all 9,000 remaining at Ramstad arrive in the United States. Still ahead, President Biden formally recognizes Indigenous Peoples'

Day on the same day normally devoted to Christopher Columbus. We'll speak to a Native American leader about what the president's proclamation means to them. Stay with us.




BRUNHUBER: On this Columbus Day weekend in the U.S., Joe Biden has done something no other president has done before. He issued an official proclamation recognizing Indigenous Peoples' Day.

Native Americans and other groups have demanded that Columbus Day be replaced by this new holiday. More than 100 cities and towns have already done that. With the stroke of her pen, Maine's governor did away with Columbus Day in 2019. The White House acknowledged the president's proclamation doesn't go that far. Listen to this.


JEN PSAKI, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Well, today is both Columbus Day, as well as Indigenous Peoples' Day. I'm not aware of any discussion of ending that -- either ending the prior federal holiday at this point. But I know that recognizing today as Indigenous Peoples' Day is something the president felt strongly about personally. He's happy to be the first president to celebrate and to make it the history moving forward.


BRUNHUBER: Fawn Sharp is the president of the National Congress of American Indians and she joined me from Lake Quinault, Washington.

Thanks for joining us.


President Biden became the first president to proclaim Friday being Indigenous Peoples' Day. But as we heard there, unlike many cities and states, he didn't replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples' Day. Was this a mistake making this a half measure and not fully replacing Columbus Day?

FAWN SHARP, PRESIDENT, NATIONAL CONGRESS OF AMERICAN INDIANS: I think it's a step in the right direction. We know as tribal nations that there's a truth to be told and there are many truths that make up this country. . And as we progress and as we reconcile with our past, we're taking incremental steps but ultimately we do see this as a very positive move.

BRUNHUBER: But would you like to see it replaced?

SHARP: Yes, absolutely.

BRUNHUBER: Also making news this week, the president undoing the cuts made by the Trump administration to two national monuments in Utah. This puts 2 million acres back into the national monuments.

I went there a couple of years ago to Bears Ears, to cover that issue, when president Trump was about to shrink those areas by some 85 percent and spoke to some indigenous leaders there about what effect this would have.

For our viewers who may not be familiar with this area, why is this reversal so important?

SHARP: This reversal is critically important for our effort to ensure that our sacred sites maintain that nature from when time began to the end of time. We have a very spiritual connection with these places. While we've relinquished millions of acres across the U.S., we've never relinquished that spiritual connection. So it's critically important to us.

BRUNHUBER: Talk to me a bit more about that. There is so much history in that land.

And having it sort of shrunk and exposed to, you know, logging, mining, other things like that, what effect would that have had?

SHARP: It would have a devastating effect. When we consider our entire being, mental, physical, spiritual well-being, just where we are as a country in terms of all of the implications to our natural world through climate change and other apocalyptic challenges we are facing, there are many things we don't have control over.

We can make a conscious and intentional intent to protect them, not just Native Americans but every citizen of the country.

BRUNHUBER: You just touched on the number of issues that are facing the indigenous communities there. COVID is one of them. Indigenous people, I'm seeing, are among the highest risk of dying of COVID-19 than any other ethnic group and are at least twice as likely to die from COVID-19 than white people.

Why have they been at such high risk during this pandemic?

SHARP: I think it's important to note that Native Americans have been incredibly vulnerable even before the pandemic. We have a failed system of our trustee failing to live up to treaty, commitments and obligations.

There was a report by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights delivered to Congress two years ago, called the Broken Promises Report. And it detailed not one federal agency is living up to its trust responsibilities.

When you're talking about health care, infrastructure, access to clean water, all of those things, we are failing on every metric. So this exposure just made the world clear and told the world what we've already known long before COVID.

BRUNHUBER: Yes. In Canada there have been many tragic headlines this year about the discoveries of the bodies of indigenous children, who have died after being taken from their homes and placed in schools. Canada has a long way to go when it comes to aboriginal issues.

At least there's an attempt to grapple with the sad piece of the past, much more than the U.S. The issue of Indian boarding schools has been largely ignored. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland announced an investigation. There was recently a bill introduced in Congress to establish an American Indian Truth and Healing Commission on Indian boarding schools.

But people have argued, there are a million pressing issues that the indigenous community affects them, their lives right now.

Why spend time and all that political capital on the past?

What would you say to that?

SHARP: We have to, as a country, spend the time. This is one of the darkest chapters in U.S. history that no one talks about, even in our own communities. It's so hard for us. Some of these things are unspeakable. When we try to talk to some of our elders, the victims of boarding

schools, it is so painful. But generation after generation we've had to carry this as well as this country. It's so important for us to put up a mirror and take a cold, hard look into that past, to reconcile so we can begin to heal as a country.

It is important. It's the darkest chapter, it's foundational to this country.


SHARP: Until we do, we're going to continue to experience multi- generational trauma, pain and division. So it's important for all of us to face that cold, dark past.

BRUNHUBER: So many challenges ahead but really appreciate your insight into all of these issues. Fawn Sharp, president of the National Congress of American Indians. Thank you for joining us.

SHARP: Yes. Stay well. Thank you.

BRUNHUBER: Coming up here on CNN NEWSROOM, the volcano on the Canary Islands keeps erupting, destroying even more homes. Residents tell us their livelihoods are now gone.




BRUNHUBER: Look at these scenes from the Canary Islands. The volcano on La Palma began erupting more than three weeks ago. The airport is operating again after volcanic ash shut it down. But the volcano has forced thousands of people to leave the area. Not only are houses devastated, for many people, their livelihoods have also gone up in flames.



BRUNHUBER (voice-over): A view no property owner ever wants to see: a tree, catching fire, engulfed by a river of lava, steps away from a building. More than 1,000 structures, destroyed, since the volcano on La Palma began erupting, three weeks ago, according to E.U. Commission authorities.

It is incinerating the land, sparking fires and forcing families to leave their homes, abandoned neighborhoods have been turned into infernos and the lava just keeps coming.

This man says he felt powerless to stop it as it burned through the land passed down to him from his parents.

JOSE ROBERTO SANCHEZ, LA PALMA RESIDENT (through translator): Here, we are suffering many things. This is the inheritance you get and lose. This is what it is, noise, dust and a volcano that does not stop.

BRUNHUBER (voice-over): Another woman, saying her family winery and home, built over the past 50 years, is also at risk.

CLARA MARIA, LA PALMA RESIDENT (through translator): The lava is, really close. I have hope and faith that it will be saved.

BRUNHUBER (voice-over): Spain's military, saying it's closely monitoring the lava flow as it encroaches on residential areas. About 6,000 people have been evacuated. Authorities in La Palma are urging residents to stay calm.

Lightning flashes as the volcano continues to flare, a spectacle and a warning of how powerful and unpredictable nature can be.


BRUNHUBER: That wraps this hour of CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Kim Brunhuber. I'll be back for another hour of CNN NEWSROOM. Please stay with us.