Like so many, the pandemic brought about countless changes in the lives of the people living on the Meskwaki Settlement. Extended families, many of whom visited with each other several times a week, found themselves unable to see their loved ones at all. Beginning in March of last year, the Settlement enacted mask mandates, social distancing guidelines, closed offices, and even ordered its residents to shelter in place for a time.
As the only Native American Tribe living in Iowa, the Settlement includes more than 2,600 people who live and/or work on the Settlement. According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Native Americans were 3 to 5 times more likely to be diagnosed with COVID-19 and mortality rates remain almost twice as high as the general U.S. population. Within the Meskwaki Nation, 343 cases have been reported with 6 Native deaths to date. For the safety of their people, the Nation’s Tribal Council was determined to get the vaccine out as quickly as possible.
On December 21st, 2020 the Meskwaki Health Clinic received its first doses of the vaccine. They quickly formulated plans and began dispensing the life-saving doses to front line healthcare workers. Following, the clinic administered doses to teachers, staff, elders, and then to tribal members. They began a vaccination campaign, educating the community and encouraging everyone to receive their vaccinations. As of April 20th, 2021 more than 71% of the population (including staff) have received their full vaccinations with another 12% scheduled for their second doses within the next twenty days. This is well above the national average.
Health Director Rudy Papakee commented, “The clinic was very fortunate to receive the Moderna vaccine right away through Indian Health Service (IHS). We prioritized our essential employees first and then quickly transitioned into the community. The Clinic’s allotment of the vaccine rolled in slowly and there were frustrations but we planned long before the vaccine arrived on who was the next priority. As the doses continued to roll in, we were notified that everything was monitored and the clinic would be held accountable for administration, roll out, and any waste. We were also advised that if we did not administer the vaccine our shipments would slow down. We did not want this to happen so we moved through each phase and then made the internal decision to open to anyone.
Although some in the community are still a bit anxious about getting their vaccination, we’re hopeful. We ordered an ultra-cold freezer back in late 2020 when we first learned of the Pfizer storage requirements. Due to demand, the freezer was delayed months and when it finally arrived it sat for a week or so until we determined we should use and begin to administer the Pfizer vaccine since our supply of Moderna was starting to be hit or miss each week. Once we knew we were getting the Pfizer vaccine from IHS and realized we would soon have shipments of over 1,000 doses per shipment, we began brainstorming about what to do next. With willing and dedicated staff, we opted to branch out beyond the Settlement boundaries and work with local school systems and to offer vaccine clinics to anyone willing to come to sponsored locations. We continue to reach out to other underserved populations in hopes of getting more people vaccinated. Our staff is ready and willing to go anywhere in Iowa to help ensure all populations are served.”
With the roll-out of the COVID-19 vaccines, life is beginning to change on the Settlement and many are excited about the future. Meskwaki community member Jessica Wabaunasee is one of them. She rushed to get her shot.
“Two weeks ago, I was finally able to visit my grandmother for the first time in over a year. Once the shot was available I helped my grandmother schedule an appointment,” exclaimed Wabaunasee. “Then, I scheduled a visit to see her when I was fully vaccinated, exactly two weeks after my second vaccination. We hugged and spent the afternoon catching up. It brings a tear to my eye even now.”
With vaccination rates higher than the national average on the Settlement, Michael “Magoo” Keahna, a respected Meskwaki clan leader believes cultural factors have contributed. “We encouraged tribe members and the community to step up and do the right thing and many have. I’ve been praying for the vaccine and for all the people to understand its importance,” he stated.
“Throughout the pandemic we’ve had to adjust our tribal ceremonies and celebrations. We’ve done temperature checks, worn masks, and social distanced as we could, but it is imperative to our way of life, and especially to our elders, that we all get vaccinated. I believe everyone should get their shot. It’s the ‘highway’ to normal. Ketebi (thank you) to everyone who has gotten their shot. Talk to your loved ones. Encourage them to get their vaccinations, too.”
Near the Meskwaki Settlement, COVID-19 vaccination clinics are open the public and sponsored by the Meskwaki Health Clinic at many event locations like the Meskwaki Casino Bingo Hotel, and in nearby communities like Tama, LeGrand, Newton and others. Papakee expanded, “We are now offering ‘walk-ins’ for the shot at our clinic events. Anyone who wants one is eligible. We encourage those who have reservations about obtaining it to call us at the clinic so we can help them find answers to their concerns. COVID-19 can have serious, life-threatening complications and there is no way to know how it might affect you. With the vaccine, you can rest assured that you are safely doing your part to stop the spread of the disease.”
For more information about the vaccine or to schedule your vaccination, call the Meskwaki Health Clinic at (641) 481-1306 or (641) 481-0842, Spanish speakers may call (641) 481-1155, or visit the Meskwaki Nation’s website at www.meskwaki.org to see a schedule of vaccination clinic dates and times.