Youth and Elders test positive for COVID-19 amid calls for donations

Indian Country Today

Meskwaki Nation among others in Indian Country with confirmed cases

Weekends are usually days when people take time off. Not these days as the number of positive coronavirus cases continue to grow in Indian Country.

Over the weekend, tribal nations reported new numbers, instituted new curfews and organizations asked for more donations to send to both students and community members. Others used this time to connect on social media.

In Iowa, a 31-year-old Meskwaki woman was confirmed positive for the virus, the Times Republican reported. She has been identified as Lindsey Johnson.

After she tested negative for the flu and for strep throat, doctors tested Johnson for coronavirus. Her results came back positive. She reports she is not sure where she contracted the virus but did say her symptoms started after attending a basketball game with her son.

Johnson initially told reporters her condition had improved last week. On Sunday, it was reported her breathing worsened and she is now under observation at the hospital.

In addition to Johnson, Rudy Papakee the health director posted this notice to the tribe’s Facebook page letting people know that a worker at the health center tested positive. “The individual does not reside on the Settlement but is an employee of the Health Clinic.” He said the employee had direct contact with four patients and those people have been notified. The patients have been advised to self-quarantine for 14 days.

The Meskwaki tribe put in place in effect a “shelter in place resolution,” on March 23rd and suspended its school lunch pick up service for the rest of the week. The tribal headquarters are closed until April 3rd.

In Arizona, the Tohono O’odham Nation announced a positive test result for a tribal member who lives in Tucson. No other details about the patient were released beside this information.

“Please keep this individual in your thoughts and hearts, as well as all others around the world that have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic,” Tohono O’odham Tribal Chairman Ned Norris, Jr. said in a press release.

(Related: Indian Country's COVID-19 syllabus)

In Canada, the community of Salluit located in the Inuit territory of Nunavik, reported its first confirmed case. The patient is a woman of an unspecified age, APTN reported.

The patient is isolated in “a specific room and hygiene measures are being strictly applied,” an official said. Following the confirmed case, local police have started to enforce a community curfew from 9pm to 6am to curb the spread of the virus.

In North Dakota, the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation has a Community Impact Dashboard that shows coronavirus updates on their tribal nation. So far, the tribal nation has administered 11 tests. Two of which have been confirmed positive.

Overall there are approximately 120 confirmed positive cases of coronavirus in the Indian Health system, including seven deaths.

Around the world, there are 638,000 confirmed positive coronavirus cases, according to the World Health Organization. Of those, more than 30,000 people have died from the virus.

Census Extension

2020 Census field operations will be suspended until April 15, 2020, the bureau announced in a Saturday press release. This means census employees will not be able to visit homes to help people fill out their forms.

“The Census Bureau is taking this step to help protect the health and safety of the American public, Census Bureau employees, and everyone who will go through the hiring process for temporary census taker positions,” the press release said.

Navajo Nation institutes a curfew

Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez addressed his nation today saying they will have a curfew from 8PM to 5AM daily starting Monday. His tone was clear.

“We need to slow down people travelling around our nation,” Nez said. He added that he observed many cars on the road even though the tribal nation has been actively encouraging people to stay home.

“Don’t be selfish. Think of your grandmas,” Nez said. “Think of those with health complications because those are those that can affect in a real bad way.”

Nez also added that the Navajo Nation has reached a total of 128 confirmed positive cases on Sunday. They also approved a 1.3 million dollar chapter emergency fund on Friday. He also gave updates on response efforts and medical supplies.

Social Distance Powwow

Powwow goers experienced something new on Saturday. The Social Distance Powwow was held through Facebook Live.

The event included two sessions where emcee’s spoke and invited people to dance. Users from all around posted their videos, songs and crafts.

Some even posted videos of previous events they partook in. One user posted a video from an honor powwow in Wichita in 2019.

Participants were of all ages, too. MJ Sheridan, Omaha, posted a video. “I am dancing to help people heal from the coronavirus,” he said in the video’s introduction.

A spike in requests, Partnership with Native Americans reports

“We are getting quite a spike in requests from our reservation partners, says Helen Oliff, director of communications for Partnership With Native Americans.

For more than 25 years, Partnership with Native Americans has served Indian Country through various programs and resources. Information from its website shows the organization serves 250,000 Natives Americans in nine states.

“With all the emergency requests, our supplies are running low and we need to replenish so that we can keep delivering,” she says and mentions the special fundraiser on its website: www.nativepartnership.org/COVID. She says they are also monitoring their phone line to both take requests for food and monetary donations. That number is: 800-416-8102.

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A team from Northern Cheyenne picks up COVID-19 emergency request supplies at the PWNA warehouse in Rapid City, South Dakota. Left to right: Dean Small, Cleve McManus, Jule Spang and Javan Ryan. (Photo courtesty of Partnership with Native Americans)

“We just started fundraising last Monday,” she said. “We started monitoring requests and in the last two weeks everything started to shift and the requests became emergency requests.”

With COVID-19 placing travel restrictions on reservations and communities, she says that’s made it even harder for people to get food and other supplies. However, tribes already being served by the organization are allowing truck deliveries from her organization to deliver much needed supplies.

“As of last week there were 14 tribes with travel restrictions and stay-at-home restrictions.”

“I can tell you, our drivers are making deliveries to the maximum hours a day they can do that.” Federal guidelines limit the hours commercial drivers can drive in a week.

“That is consistent in the southwest tribes as well as the tribes in the northern plains.”

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Pallets of water and sanitizer are being prepped for shipment. (Photo courtesy of Partnership with Native Americans)

Rather than wait for a delivery from her organization, the Northern Cheyenne program decided to pick up its supplies at the Rapid City, SD warehouse to get them quicker.

“The most predominant thing people are asking for is food,” she said. Toilet paper, bottled water, baby formula and other basic items that are hard to come by in the communities are also on the request list.

Besides helping Native families who live on reservations or in urban areas the organization also provides services for those who are homeless and children in foster care.

Guidelines for the deceased

In Minnesota, Kevin Chilson finally received some guidelines late Friday night from the state about how to care for people deceased due to COVID-19. He’s the owner of Chilson Funeral Chapel in Winsted, Minn and is a licensed funeral director and embalmer in four states. He and his wife opened the business in 1997.

So far he has not had to take care of a coronavirus funeral or cremation.

Chilson serves tribes in Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wisconsin and says Native people account for 50% of his business. “We predominantly work in Minnesota where the funeral home is located and do a lot of services in eastern South Dakota.”

“There’s no restrictions on viewing the body if it has been embalmed properly,” he said. “There’s no restrictions on having an open casket or viewing. Minnesota health dept has limited services or visitation to a maximum of 10 family members.

These restrictions are going to be in effect for the next two weeks.”

Chilson already expects the restrictions to be extended.

Coronavirus information tailored to Indian Country

Personnel at the Johns Hopkins Center for American Indian Health team have created online resources for tribal nations to disperse to their communities. The organization is hoping their information can be shared on social media or printed out and posted.

The PDF posters include:

AISES scholarship

The American Indian Science and Engineering Society is hosting a fundraiser with a goal of raising more than $5,000 for Indigenous students affected by the coronavirus pandemic.

The organization says it recognizes that the closing of colleges and universities has affected Native students who may have had to incur unexpected costs due to moving home in a short notice.

As of this writing, they have raised $4,700. When they reach their goal, the organization says they will begin accepting applications on a first-come-first-served basis. Students who meet the qualifications are expected to receive a one time scholarship of $500.

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If your tribal nation has an update on COVID-19 you can send a press release to pressrelease@indiancountrytoday.com.

Aliyah Chavez and Patty Talahongva contributed to this report

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