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Tribes across North Dakota reflect after a year of COVID-19

Published: Mar. 11, 2021 at 2:33 PM CST
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MINOT, N.D. - For the past year, tribes across the state have used their sovereign nation status to create their own unique responses against COVID-19.

Curfews, mask mandates, limiting large gatherings and work from home orders are some of the similarities between the three tribes and their responses to COVID-19 last year.

Calling a tribal state of emergency was the first step for many tribes back in March and April.

Preparation for the virus began for the Three Affiliated Tribes before the virus even made it to the state.

“We started thinking about terms of purchasing essentials, creating a task force. All these things were talked about heavily in February,” said MHA Nation Chairman Mark Fox.

The Tribe’s COVID-19 task force mobilized planning mass testing and later vaccination events while also offering food to the community and a quarantine area.

Now the tribe is nearing the end of their three-phase vaccine distribution plan ahead of schedule and have been vaccinating the public since mid-February.

“We really, really need to respect what this means to our people because we all know in a country we’ve been through a number of pandemics in the history of our people,” said State Indian Affairs Commission Executive Director Scott Davis.

Tribes were given the option to partner with either the state or federal government on how they would receive the vaccines by the end of 2020, and were able to implement their own distribution plans.

Prioritizing preserving tribal culture was included in a number of tribal vaccine plans but was the first step for the Standing Rock Sioux tribe. Language speakers, the elderly and spiritual and religious leaders were first in line.

“For us to have a nation, our language is so important. The L and D dialects are what’s down here at Standing Rock so that was one of our priorities we added into the structure of getting vaccinated,” said Standing Rock Sioux Tribe Chairman Mike Faith.

Faith said that since January, more than 2,000 people have received the first dose and close to 900 are fully vaccinated.

“It was scary because at one point you see the numbers going up, then at another point you start seeing deaths in the community,” said Turtle Mountain Tribe Chairman Jamie Azure.

The Turtle Mountain Tribe began defensive precautions by shutting down the Sky Dancer casino in March, similar with MHA Nation’s response with 4 Bears Casino & Lodge.

Throughout the year the tribe developed their own methods for quick testing and even their own hand sanitizer to meet demand.

They prioritized essential healthcare workers and educators in the vaccine rollout.

“Before we moved to anything fully into allowing students to be back in the school systems, we knew it was a priority to make sure that our teachers, our faculty, our staff in our school systems were in that first phase,” said Azure.

Students returned to school with a hybrid learning model in late February after distance learning for a year.

All three chairmen said that continuing to vaccinate and test are their main priorities moving forward.

All three tribes are still operating under mask mandates and have begun vaccinating non tribal members in their area.

You can find the latest COVID-19 information for each tribe below.

MHA Nation here.

TMBCI here.

Standing Rock Sioux Tribe here.

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