'Fighting COVID-19 like building an airplane while flying

Indian Country Today

There was no roadmap as to how we were dealing with this pandemic

The Gila River Indian Community in Arizona is one of three tribes near the Phoenix metropolitan area. Early on the tribe started aggressive testing and getting the word out to their people to stay home. The tribe also closed casinos that have since reopened with some changes. 

Governor Stephen Roe Lewis of the Gila River Indian Community joins us today to talk about how his tribe is navigating through this global pandemic.  

Here are a few of Lewis' comments: 

“I created a COVID-19 task force in response to this pandemic early in late January.And the goal of it was to test, trace and treat and contain the spread of COVID-19 in our community.”

“The absence of information, especially on the Indian Country created a lot of fear among our community members.”

“The COVID-19 virus is so easily transmitted. It truly is a silent enemy.”

“There was no roadmap as to how we were dealing with this pandemic.”

“My office of emergency management would say building an airplane while we're flying.”

“I also utilize my executive orders under our constitution as governor to prevent travel early on, shelter in place and to limit gatherings.”

“We have probably just over 13 to 14,000 that live on the reservation. Our total enrollment is just over 23,000.”

“Currently, we have 30 members who are residing in our community that have tested positive. Sadly, we've had two deaths ... elders from our community. And that's two too many.”

“We've also tested on Native Americans from other tribes. We've tested enrolled members of federally recognized tribes who have presented themselves to be tested at Gila River Health Care.”

“We have 100 documented cases of positive COVID-19 from other federally recognized tribes that have tested at Gila River Health Care.”

“I still get some emotional. I would have to reach out to call my fellow tribal leaders personally on the phone and let them know that one of their tribal members had presented themselves and tested positive within our health care facility.”

“That was early on. I would do that at the beginning. Now, our public health and Gila River Health Care systems have a protocol now and follow up with these cases.”

“Our tribal gaming facilities that have come online. We instituted measures to have mandatory testing of all those employees before they returned as part of our reopening plan, as well as other social distancing measures as well.”

Regarding federal funds from the CARES Act, “For the Gila River Community, we're just wanting to make sure that the process was fair and equitable and not to have some tribes get too much money and other tribes not get enough.”

“This goes back to the treasury as well, not really dictating to tribes as to how they should get the money, rather than listening to tribal leaders and to tribes saying, ‘this is what we need the money for.’”

“I think we really need, as Indian Country, to hold the federal government to that trust responsibility as well.”

"That's what I told President Trump is that we need a fair and equitable distribution of this critical, these critical COVID-19 funds resources moving forward for all tribes.”

Also in the newscast, Jourdan Bennett-Begaye gives the latest numbers of positive COVID-19 tests in Indian Country.

The anchor and executive producer of the program is Patty Talahongva. 

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