'This is our Pearl Harbor moment' ... and Indian Country is right there

The Elbowoods Memorial Health Center, New Town, North Dakota, photo via Facebook.

Jourdan Bennett-Begaye

The Navajo Nation has more confirmed COVID-19 cases than the states of West Virginia, Montana, South Dakota, North Dakota, Wyoming, Alaska or Guam and the Virgin Islands

The White House said over the weekend to brace for really difficult news as the number of COVID-19 cases continues its rapid growth.

The U.S. is still awaiting the peak, and Surgeon General Jerome Adams offered a stark warning about the expected wave of virus deaths.

“This is going to be our Pearl Harbor moment, our 9/11 moment,’’ he told “Fox News Sunday.”

And, as in World War II, Indian Country is right there.

The Mandan Hidatsa and Arikara Nation’s COVID-19 cases nearly doubled over the weekend to at least 14, according to its community dashboard. All of the cases have been in the New Town North Segment so far. The tribal nation has 20 tests pending. One week ago there was only one case.

Chairman Mark Fox released a statement about the tribe’s mitigation measures on March 31.

"[The Mandan Hidatsa and Arikara Nation Tribal Business Council] will use all the powers that we have as a Sovereign Nation and do whatever is necessary to help mitigate the effects of the virus on our community,” he said. “The measures adopted today by council are part of our comprehensive response."

The tribe implemented a dusk-to-dawn curfew, limited groups of 5 or more people gathering, is developing and enforcing cooperative agreements with businesses on the Fort Berthold Reservation, and “a mandate to improve testing for the virus.” The tribal enforcement is going to enforce these measures. The tribe also established an incident command system with

The measures include a dusk to dawn curfew, a limit on groups of 5 or more people congregating, to develop and enforce cooperative agreements with businesses on the reservation and a mandate to improve testing for the virus. Tribal law enforcement is empowered to enforce the mitigation measures.

The MHA Nation has also limited staff in the tribal officers and established an incident command system. Lisa Lone Fight serves as the science advisor for the tribe’s coronavirus task force team and the public information officer. She said they created the dashboard so their tribal citizens can have “accurate data.”

Governor Stephen Roe Lewis of the Gila River Indian Community announced the tribe’s first death from COVID-19.

“This points out the serious, deadly and tragic nature of the situation,” said Gov. Lewis in a video on Facebook. “It also points out the critical need for all community members to strictly follow the CDC and our own community guidelines to keep everyone safe from this deadly disease. Please, stay home.”

Read: Indian Country Today's COVID-19 Syllabus

Six other tribes reported new cases in the past few days.

Colville Tribes reported it has three cases confirmed with the Colville Reservation in Washington state. On April 1, it reported only one case.

The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes announced its first case on the Fort Hall Indian Reservation on Friday.

In the Midwest, the Cherokee Nation says it has 11 cases within its health system, the Cherokee Nation Health Services. The nation already had one death of a Cherokee Nation man last month who was not in the tribal nation’s health system.

The Southern Ute in Colorado has two COVID-19 cases as of March 29. Both are employees of the Southern Ute Indian Tribal Government.

Pueblo of Zuni Governor Val Panteah, Sr. reported on April 1 that Zuni has two cases. Not too far from Zuni is Ohkay Owingeh said it had one case on April 3 who is a client of the New Moon Lodge, a drug and alcohol addiction rehab center in New Mexico.

This evening the Navajo Nation gained 33 new cases, giving the nation a total of 354 cases. It also had one more death related to COVID-19, which made 14 deaths on the Navajo Nation. The Navajo Nation includes the Ramah Navajo chapter, a band of the Navajo Nation, in its total confirmed case count. The Ramah Navajo chapter reports six cases in its community.

“You may be young and healthy, but please be mindful of your elders – your parents and grandparents. Their immune system may not be as strong as yours and they need to be protected,” said Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez. “The majority of those who have lost their lives are those older than 60-year-old. Projections indicate that we have not reached the peak of the spread of COVID-19, so please take every precaution and stay home as much as possible.”

The Navajo Nation says they will continue to issue citations and fines to those who violate the stay-at-home order and curfew. Essential employees will need a letter of designation from their business employer with official identification if they’re out past curfew.

There are a total of 458 positive COVID-19 cases and 22 deaths in the Indian health system.

The Navajo Nation has more confirmed COVID-19 cases than the states of West Virginia, Montana, South Dakota, North Dakota, Wyoming, Alaska or Guam and the Virgin Islands.

There are now more than 337,274 cases in the United States and 9.633 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University.

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Jourdan Bennett-Begaye, Diné, is the Washington editor for Indian Country Today based in Washington, D.C. Follow her on Twitter: @jourdanbb. Email: jbennett-begaye@indiancountrytoday.com

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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