90-day shelter in place order for Bay Mills Indian Community

Indian Country Today

'We can't finalize our plans until they follow the law and get the money that Congress appropriated to tribes...frustrating would be an understatement.'

Bryan Newland, chairperson of the Bay Mills Indian Community in Michigan explains why the tribe took extreme measures in March to protect its citizens.

A few of his comments in the newscast: 

"Most consistent advice we found at that time was to start off really aggressive. You can always scale back on your restrictions once you have them in place. But if you're too tentative and the virus finds its way into your community, it's really too late to stop it at that point before it inflicts a terrible amount of damage." Since the 90 day shelter at home order was put in place, Bay Mills does not have a single positive COVID-19 test on its reservation. 

"We have found though that it has been the most helpful, from the tribal council perspective, to show all of our cards. Here's what we know. Here's what we don't. Here's what's informing our decision making process. And to be just honest and transparent and very candid with people right up front. And that helped clamp down on a lot of rumors about the decision to put a shelter in place, order in effect and really help people understand why it's important. And we've just tried to constantly repeat that messaging and educate people on why we're taking these steps."

"Actually, before we even put our shelter in place order into effect, the tribal council had directed our prosecutor to file a motion with our tribal court to have all of our inmates taken out of the County jail, which is where tribal inmates go, and placed on house arrest. We've suspended taking people to jail unless somebody is an imminent danger to public safety and trying to look out for those folks who aren't always at the forefront of the minds of policy makers."

"We knew that having people in jail, if a virus would ever show up in jail or prison as we've seen in a lot of places, there's nothing you can do to really keep it from spreading at that point."

"There were very few crimes that were worth keeping people at risk of losing their lives." "The need to keep them safe outweighed any desire to inflict further punishment right now."

"As a council, we set three overarching priorities which are keeping our tribal public safe, taking care of our employees, both their wages and their safety, and then protecting the tribe's long-term economic interests. And it's been very difficult with some of these decisions to marry up those three goals. But we've said everything we do has to tie back to those three goals right now and has to fulfill those objectives."

"For example, with our casino employees, we made the decision a month ago to lay off almost all of them or put them on unpaid leave status. And that was simply because we wanted to ensure that we had the funds...we could have spent down our limited funds to continue paying people for a few extra weeks, but then we would have nothing left to restart our tribal government or keep things going on the other side of this."

"We've worked really hard to explain to people the trade off of the decisions that we're making. And it's almost become a mantra for me in communicating with our tribal members, that the council doesn't have good choices here. We're not choosing between right and wrong or good and bad. Often right now we're choosing between bad and worse. 

On changes the tribe is considering as it plans to reopen the casinos: "We were discussing, going smoke free before this started. That's certainly going to play a role in it. When we reopened our casino it's going to start on a very limited basis. We have really talked to our staff...no idea is too silly to talk about. So we're looking at every possible way we could reopen safely."

"Through our tribal college, we have a skilled trades training program which gets people ready for manufacturing and they've partnered up with local school districts to make medical face shields with their 3-D printers and the students doing assembly. We pumped out thousands of face shields to local hospitals and other healthcare providers in the region."

"We've been very frustrated actually with the federal response to that Congress appropriated money to assist commercial fishers in the CARES act. And we have yet to even take a phone call asking if we're ready to consult or how to get those monies out."

"We've been engaged in our own pipeline battle, having a pipeline crossing underneath the great lakes and the difficulty we've had just having our voices heard. And even then you have to watch the tone that you speak with and here these guys can march right into the legislative chambers with semiautomatic assault rifles, and scream and yell without any repercussions is very frustrating."

Also on the daily newscast, Washington Editor Jourdan Bennett-Begaye reports updated COVID-19 numbers in Indian Country.

The host of the program is Patty Talahongva, executive producer of Indian Country Today.

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