When the coronavirus pandemic hit the United States, New York was the center of the outbreak. The governor took decisive action to slow the spread of the virus.
On Long Island where the Shinnecock Nation is located, the tribe also took measures to safeguard its citizens.
The Shinnecock only gained federal recognition in 2010. It is still very new. How has the nation dealt with the pandemic? And how have they grown since gaining federal recognition?
Chairman Bryan Polite joins us to talk about the pandemic and the Shinnecock. Here are a few of his comments:
"In the beginning, we banned all travel of tribal staff. We instituted a policy if anybody showed signs of the COVID -- and this was weeks prior to New York going into lockdown, after the stay at home orders were in place, we were able to provide meals for our community members."
"First, it was just the elders and the kids. And then as we got more donations and as we received more aid, we actually were able to do a full fledged food inspired distribution tent where we would give out everything from cloth masks to meals twice a day, to thermometers, to all kinds of things that everybody would need in a time of pandemic."
"On territory we have 620 tribal members living on territory with an additional 900 living off territory. And then we have an additional 420 tribal spouses. So we have a population of around a thousand on 900 acres."
"You know, the local municipalities have been great. Right from the beginning, the town of Southampton, the County of Suffolk and also New York state has included us in the county calls that they've had in the leadership calls. We've had local vendors donate food; Panera Bread was great. We have a local Mexican American spot that provided tacos almost on a daily basis. We had fresh produce coming in. So it really wasn't outpouring.There was a Go Fund Me page that was set up, not by the council, but by a tribal member that raised $12,000."
"So even before a lot of the federal funding was released, we were blessed with kind donations and we also had money, in a rainy day fund that we were able to utilize to provide much necessary resources for our community members."
"If we didn't have the federal funding, especially the access to the Treasury from the CARES act, things will be a lot different. We wouldn't have been able to actually increase our tribal staff during this pandemic and we might've had to lay people off. So, it's made a world of difference being federally-recognized and having access to those much needed funds."
"We have a health clinic on territory. In the upper part, we have what's called Southampton hospital, which is a local hospital that runs that particular portion through grants in New York State's Indian Health Services."
"And we've been able to actually do onsite testing here with the rapid 15 minute tests and also the antibody test. So having that clinic here and not having our people have to go off territory to take these tests has been really a blessing."
"We're testing pretty regularly, almost daily. We just brought back our tribal staff at a 50 percent capacity. Just last week, we were going to bring them to a hundred percent capacity, but with all the spikes around the country, we reverse course, and now we're back at 50 percent. All tribal staff have to be tested before they come back and we're testing on a two week interval."
"We only have five confirmed cases on territory. We unfortunately lost three of our tribal elders to the COVID-19 disease, but they were off territory, which made it even worse. It's very sad. What's going on with our elders when they're placed in these homes and that, you know, with COVID, you can't go visit them. So they pass away and that's horrible."
"Obviously the CARES act was the major source of revenue for the relief fund. One of the main guidelines was to increase our access to our tribal members' access to wifi. And we were able to work out a deal where we're able to pay for every household wifi for the entire year, as well as putting in place a program where every household also gets a computer. And we're also making that available to any of tribal members off the reservation or off the territory that has children in the house. In about a month, every single household will have free wifi and a computer so that they can participate in our tribal meetings, get information and be up to date."
"Last year on Memorial day weekend, the nation finally finished and erected a 65 foot, what we call a monument, with digital advertisement on it. Our tribal seal now six 65 feet up in the air overlooking our ancestral homelands. Unfortunately as you alluded to in the beginning, you said we're right in the middle of the Hamptons. So with that comes a lot of powerful enemies that have always tried to stop the Shinnecock Nation from proceeding forward on our quest for economic self-sustainability."
"So when the sign went up, we had basically an uproar with a bunch of hypocritical locals saying that the Native Americans, the Indigenous people that have occupied these lands for over 10,000 years, somehow it was going to ruin the enclave of the Hamptons because of this sign that looked gaudy and it was horrible."
"So we're up and operating, but one of the good things that have come from the community out here coming together, is that the Shinnecock Nation has been asked and was willing to put up public service announcements, not only just for the town of Southampton, but for New York state as well. So the town actually reached out to us and we're working in cooperation now to get people the necessary information that they need on the billboards. So that, that whole relationship has kind of flipped on its head. And instead of a lot of locals looking at us and casting dispersions, they're now saying that the Shinnecock really came through for a local community and played their part."
"Basically, at the height of the New York state pandemic we were ground central for the longest time and the Hamptons, unfortunately there was a mass exodus from the city. We were actually invaded out here and it was a really crazy time. All of the rich city people came out here, they bought up everything in the stores. They were all over the place. And at the time we had to warn people to self quarantine. So that was one of the first signs that we put up for the town was to put up a message basically alerting people if they're coming from New York city, self quarantine for 14 days and then evolved from there."
"We are taking it (the census count) very seriously. We have a whole team in place that's going around. They're actually working in tangent with Stony Brook University, which is a local university on long Island to ensure that we're counted and we're making a big push to ensure that we're counted."
"We already have a very high voter registration. I think 80 percent of eligible voters are registered and actively participating."
"I just want to acknowledge all the people that have helped the Shinnecock Nation and also all of the tribal members working out there. And I really want to give blessings to those Indigenous, communities around the country that aren't bearing all that well, I'm sending them good medicine and good thoughts and trying to get through this."
"Because as I said before, we know what pandemics can do to our people and losing one elder in our community is like losing a national treasure. And the fact that this is affecting elders is very troubling."
Also in the newscast, Carina Dominguez has the latest numbers of positive COVID-19 tests in Indian Country.
The anchor and executive producer of the newscast is Patty Talahongva.