'Our hearts are heavy'
Indian Country Today
Facebook is where the news often breaks. Families tell their stories, as do tribes.
Monday the Cherokee Nation reported the death of its self-governance director, the first COVID-19-related death within the tribe’s health system.
Karen Ketcher, Cherokee, died Monday at age 70, according to the tribe. She previously worked for the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
The nation said Ketcher died of COVID-19 complications.
“Our hearts are heavy today as we mourn the passing of our dear friend, Karen,” Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. said on Facebook. “This is a shock, both to the many loved ones Karen leaves behind, and to the Cherokee Nation as a whole. As Cherokees, we all feel the weight of her loss, which is tragic and too soon.”
This is the tribe’s second death: A 55-year-old man died in mid-March outside of the Cherokee Nation’s health system.
The tribe announced an increase of 13 cases today Monday, bringing the total to 24 cases and two deaths. The tribe’s health system also has 11 ventilators.
The Choctaw Nation also has seen cases increases, with Chief Gary Batton announcing three new ones Monday. That brings the tribe’s total to 18 cases and 1 death.
The tribal nation had its first case March 26. The Choctaw Nation Health Service Authority is waiting for 49 test results, while 49 tests have come back negative.
Meanwhile, the Muckleshoot Tribe in Washington state had two cases as of April 2. Both will be in isolation for 14 days, and contact tracing has been done on both people, says the tribe.
Contact tracing is when health officials interview the infected about where they’ve been and who they may have had contact with. Dean Seneca, CEO of Seneca Scientific Solutions Plus, said during an interview on Indian Country Today’s newscast, that this method was effective when he was on the frontlines of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa
In the Southwest, the Navajo Nation continues to see a jump in cases. On Monday, it had 30 new cases. This gives the tribal nation a total of 384 cases.
Nationwide, there are now 539 cases and 24 deaths in the Indian health system.
In New Mexico, San Felipe Pueblo last week became one of the latest pueblos to issue a strict stay-at-home order for its community.
Thirty-two miles away is Zia Pueblo. Its leadership adopted similar guidelines in a weekend memo.
Zia Pueblo leadership confirmed Sunday that their pueblo had 11 confirmed cases.
In addition to a stay-at-home order, the pueblo has enacted a curfew that will remain in effect until further notice, according to its memo. Only essential works and those with medical appointments or emergencies can leave the pueblo, it says.
Zia Pueblo also says only two people per household can be designated to go shopping, and they cannot be elders or children. Tribal members can shop only on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.
“We are a small, close-knit community with strong family connections. If the “Stay at Home” Order is not taken seriously or ignored, even by one person, more harm will be inflicted upon Zia Members,” the memo reads. “Please, our Zia People, abide by the ‘Stay at Home’ Order. Practice all social distancing guidelines and frequently follow through with personal hygiene recommendations set forth by Public Health experts.”
Joining other pueblos, Zia Pueblo has cancelled all Easter activities, including church services, dances and Easter egg hunts.
This weekend will look drastically different for residents of the Navajo Nation.
The Navajo Department of Health has issued an emergency order implementing a curfew beginning at 8 p.m. Friday and ending at 5 a.m. Monday. Those who do not comply will be given a citation and fined, officials say.
“We are seeing way too many people contract the virus, and we need to step up measures to begin to reduce the numbers,” Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez said in a press release. “Our health care system cannot manage the growing numbers of patients and those who need to be admitted. We continue to receive reports of people on the road and traveling with families to nearby border towns.”
The weekend curfew does not apply to essential employees. These employees, however, are required to show proof of identification from their employer on an official letterhead to be exempt from being penalized.
Tribe says to keep medical equipment in the region
Seneca Nation President Rickey Armstrong, Sr. issued the following statement in opposition to the executive order outlined by Governor Andrew Cuomo for taking vital resources and medical equipment away from Upstate New York hospitals for use downstate. A press release said:
“The Governor’s order flies in the face of the life-saving work our hospitals, doctors, nurses and first responders are risking their own health to perform every day. By preparing to send the National Guard to the region to demand our healthcare community relinquish ventilators and equipment, the Governor is signaling his willingness to sacrifice the lives and safety of our family and neighbors. He is creating a dangerous ‘us’ versus ‘them’ dynamic, and he is making his choice crystal clear.”
Jourdan Bennett-Begaye, Dalton Walker and Aliyah Chavez contributed to this report. The Associated Press also contributed.