Leading during the pandemic

Indian Country Today

We check back in with chairman Matthew Wesaw to see how his tribe is doing during the pandemic. And correspondent Richard Walker has more on his coverage of Indigenous Americans in the Portland, Oregon area.

We last checked in with the Pokagon band of Potawatomi at the end of September, since then a lot has happened. Joining us today is Chairman Matthew Wesaw to talk about the pandemic vaccine and more.

Portland, Oregon is a city with a vibrant American Indian population, and a lot of news has happened there in the past few months. On the newscast today is Richard Walker. He is a correspondent covering that news for Indian Country Today.

Some quotes from todays show

Matthew Wesaw:

"Well, I think we're probably suffering many of the same experiences that other tribes and communities across the country are. We're not getting it as fast as what we thought. Although I feel very fortunate by the end of this week, we will have vaccinated approximately 400 of our tribal citizens, first responders, frontline workers, and government workers who are a part of the essential workforce that has to be on site. So we feel pretty good about that, but like everybody else we could use a lot more."

"I don't know about the confidence level. They're glad that it's here. As I think I mentioned the time we have lost a few citizens to the virus not as many as others. We've had a few that have chosen not to accept the vaccine just because it's a little bit early. And then we've had others who have contracted the virus who are not eligible yet for the vaccine, but so far from everything I'm hearing we feel pretty good about the number of people that are accepting the vaccine."

"They have fared far better than what we initially expected. We are operating at about 70%. We have turned to a non-smoking facility right now, temporarily, and I say temporarily, the final decision it's not been made yet, but we are getting a lot of very positive feedback with respect to not being a smoking facility, but the other probably more important thing is we're getting a lot of positive feedback on the level of caution that we've taken to hopefully prevent the spread of the virus. We require masks, we have the dividers, we do the temperature checks. And for the most part, all of our guests have been very responsible in keeping their masks on inside the facility. So the properties are doing very well, all things considered."

Richard Walker:

"Well as you know there are quite a few protests going on and in Portland. Portland’s been the center of a lot of protest activity, oh, dating back to the deaths last year of George Floyd and Brianna Taylor. Protests going on there as have protests been going on throughout the United States. But amidst all of this there has been a history of disenfranchisement and prejudice against and a lack of opportunity for people of color, Native Americans, African-Americans." 

"And this kind of came to a head last year, well, last year and continuing on now with the efforts to save the red house on Mississippi. A home owned by an African-American and Native American family in a historically African-American neighborhood, which ironically, that neighborhood, the Albina neighborhood of Portland was an area where real estate policies established a century ago really forced or kept African-Americans in that neighborhood and restricted African-American homeownership outside that area."

"So I think that what Portland has done is, they've tried, amidst all of this, they've recognized, starting about 10 years ago, that Native Americans at least had been treated unjustly. Native American history and the Native American presence in Portland was largely being ignored. And what that's resulted in is in many communities throughout the United States is an achievement gap in our schools and local schools lack of representation in local government and other things. And so you know, a lack of a voice for Native Americans."

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Mark Trahant, Shoshone-Bannock, is editor of Indian Country Today. On Twitter: @TrahantReports Trahant is based in Phoenix.

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