Northeast Wisconsin tribes align with state to battle COVID-19 pandemic

Published: Apr. 17, 2020 at 11:49 PM CDT
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As a community with an overall higher susceptibility of contracting the coronavirus, Native American tribes are taking the cue to stay at home very seriously amid the pandemic.

“As Native Americans, we have the highest rates of cancer, diabetes, heart disease and asthma and so therefore more severe cases [of COVID-19] would be present in our community,” said Brandon Yellow Bird Stevens, vice chairman of the Oneida Nation.

Tribal nations are responsible for creating their own rules when it comes to dealing with pandemics. So far, both Oneida Nation and Menominee Nation have mirrored Governor Tony Evers “Safer-at-Home” orders.

Leaders of both tribes say they are leaning towards extending their orders to May 26.

The Oneida Nation’s Safer at Home declaration is in effect through May 12.

“We do want to be consistent with the state, but also if there is any indication of opening up businesses, we want to make sure we are on the highest precautionary measures to protect our employees and our patrons,” said Stevens.

Casinos being closed has resulted in even bigger challenges for tribes, as it’s the main source of revenue to keep essential operations going.

The Oneida Nation has had to layoff or furlough 1,962 employees.

Menominee Nation tribal leaders say they’ve been fortunate so far.

“It’s been pretty difficult for the tribe to balance, but we’ve been doing it so far successfully. We haven’t had to layoff anybody, with the exception of the expansion of the Governor’s orders,” said Joan Delabreau, tribal chairwoman of the Menominee Nation.

Now, the tribe is looking at about 80 layoffs.

When it comes to testing for the virus, both tribes have seen minimal cases.

Oneida Nation reports 5 cases, with some recovery.

The Menominee Nation says they’ve had one positive case within the boundaries of the reservation, but that person has also recovered.

However, Indian Country is facing the same issues as far as getting personal protective gear and test kits.

Delabreau says the tribe got about 80 test kits and have used about half. However, they have been approved for some rapid testing.

“We were selected for rapid testing so we have the machine and it’s set up and it’s running and have to do some testing with it. Even with that, we’re not expected to get a whole lot of rapid tests, maybe about 24, and even when that’s gone, we have to secure them from another source. So, that’s what we are currently trying to do so we can test more people and can get the results faster,” said Delabreau.

On April 6, Menominee Nation also implemented a curfew and no one is allowed out between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m.

Delabreau says they did this to prevent young people from being out and about on the reservation.