Skip to main content

Patty Talahongva

Indian Country Today

In March Americans were starting to become aware of COVID-19 and watched as the novel Corona virus started closing down events and popular tourist attractions. Yet the Te-Moak Tribe of Western Shoshone, didn't let the global pandemic stop them from opening a cannabis business. 

The tribe is located in the Elko, Nevada, which is in the northeastern part of the state. Its population is 2,700 citizens. And in April Newe Cannabis opened as a drive thru business. Vice Chairman Juan Arevalo talks about the business. Here are some of his comments. 

"Initially when we found out we were all frightened it was something we were not expecting. I don't think anybody was ever expecting it (the pandemic). 

"All the scenarios came through our heads...'What are we going to do? How are we going to accommodate? Should we push forward? How are we going to protect not only our employees, our general public and customers, so we had to take all that into consideration before we made our next move. So with all the consideration we felt it was okay to just open up a drive through."

"The convenience of coming up to the store and people not having to come out of their car, into the building, being in front of other we felt that was the best way to navigate through all this."

"So instead of having the grand opening bringing the community in and showing them what we're all about, we felt that we pushed back that date. And from, from this point on we would just stick with the drive through just to accommodate the people. And at the same time practice safety precautions."

"The profits were, to me honestly I felt was extraordinary, I didn't think that we could generate enough profits and revenue sales from everything to actually come to that point."

"We have a committee in place and that committee established the guidelines of how we were going to spend our money internally. So we had decided with the pandemic to maybe assist the community, our neighboring community in purchasing laptops for our community members, the laptops for the social distancing learning that the school district had started...also to set up hotspots and internet capabilities for them. We accommodate them the best we could."

"We also forecasted other avenues of how we're going to spend money through roads, infrastructure, all kinds of things, things that we have in development stages right now. And it's still in the process working and we're very satisfied with it and the potential is just unlimited. There's just so much we could do with the proper planning."

"With our tribe, what we did was we initiated a COVID-19 response plan. And in that plan, it was a distribution of care packages. So people who were quarantined, self-quarantined, positive cases, we try to accommodate them by helping them to stay, encouraging them to stay home and we would deliver whatever necessities that they need to each individual home and just encourage them to stay home and whatever they needed it was just a call and we'd come get it for them."

"And even the ones that are off the reservation. So if you live off the reservation, we still try to get some kind of efforts to bring you those things that you need just so you could stay home."

"So our tribe, unfortunately, you can't predict how many people will be passing away. So our tribe itself tries to allocate certain funds towards our burial assistance and for years, and years and years, it's always been depleted. You know, we can never sustain that. So when we ventured into this, we are now capable of putting more resources into that. So when we do have funerals or people do need assistance, we're not in deficiencies no more." 

"We're in the works of trying to initiate our own tribal law force. We're in the process of doing that, it's been ongoing. We've had some tribal issues in the past that unfortunately put us in the position we are in now. So we're in kind of in the cleanup stage but to expand on that, that is what we're trying to do to determine or to establish a police force for our own community."

"We have a tribal members who work there and then we have non-tribal members who work there. So we work collectively with our tribe and our neighboring city. Again, economically we have 20 tribal members, 20 non-tribal members."

"We initiated a job fair before we even started the business and tribal members one day specifically came and then the next day we had a non-tribal members. So it worked out very well. We had a lot of people reach out and it was a good thing for both tribe and, um, for the city."

"I'm glad that we decided to venture into this."

Here are some comments from Kalle Benallie on how high school students helped create a virtual tour of the Wind River tribal lands. 

"The Fort Washakie students on the reservation, their Indian educator director Lynette St. Claire knew the CEO of TravelStoriesGPS, and they've kind of been talking about this project for a little while. And so they finally came together and decided to really involve the students and have them tell their stories."

"So TravelStoriesGPS gave them any option, anything that they could want it to tell, they really wanted to make sure that the students were in control of their stories of their tribal history and they gave them all of that." 

"One student, her name is Laramie Azure. She's a senior at the Fort Washakie high school and she talked about how she wasn't really comfortable talking with people and she didn't know how to talk in an interview style because they had to interview tribal leaders, had to select locations and take pictures. And so it really opened her up into researching about her own tribe and gaining those skills to tell these stories."

"So one is the Fort Washakie high school they talked about the boarding school history with that and how it's named after their chief, chief Washakie. They also talk about the Wind River mountains and the meaning behind that for the tribe and also Saccjewea's grave site, which is at where she is laid to rest and more history about her."

"(The plan is) have these tours in their languages and other tours in other Indigenous languages in the future."

"You can go to their website or download their free app and you can just type in the Wind River Reservation tour and it'll pop up and it's a very interactive platform. You can choose which sites you want to see or you can just play it on auto play and automatically play. Or if you're in that area and you're driving through the reservation it will actually tell you what places you're passing by."

"I think one major reason why they did it too is just to drive economic opportunities for the reservation. They hope that this will get a lot of tourists cause the Yellowstone National Park is nearby. And so a lot of tourists drive through the reservation. So they just hope that this will bring more light to what they have to offer economically and also their history."

Also in the newscast, Deputy Managing Editor Jourdan Bennett-Begaye has the latest positive COVID-19 test numbers in Indian Country.