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The tribe with the largest reservation in the U.S. is keeping its mask mandate in place, as the federal mandate for masks to be worn on public transit suddenly ended this week. The top leader of the Navajo Nation is reminding reservation residents and visitors the tribe’s mask mandate has never been lifted. It’s been in place for two years on the vast reservation located in the Four Corners region. During a virtual town hall Tuesday, tribal leaders and health care officials urged residents to keep taking precautions. Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez.
“We’re not out of the pandemic yet. In the East Coast, you’re starting to see numbers jump up. Also, putting mask mandates back in place. We have a mask mandate we’ve never stopped. I know people say masks don’t work, but look at the data…we need to continue to keep our masks on and I hope we don’t see an increase in cases because of the Easter weekend.”
The tribe is continuing to see low COVID-19 numbers. As of Tuesday, Navajo health departments reported three new cases and no deaths. Other tribes across the country have dropped their mask mandates, including the Blackfeet Nation in Montana and the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe in New York. This week, a judge struck down the federal mask mandate for public transportation.
A senior advisor for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the CDC has created guidance looking at COVID community levels to help support tribes. Dr. Seh Welch (Blackfeet) says COVID-19 data and trends are tracked in off-reservation communities.
“We know that tribal community members go from reservation to surrounding border towns for supplies and so forth, it very well may be that there is a low, medium or high rate of COVID transmission in that local county. So, we are encouraging tribes to take a look at what we call “COVID Community Levels.”
Welch says looking at data and trends in nearby communities may help tribes determine what COVID-19 precautions to take.
“Masking and isolation, social distancing…and here we are a fabulous time of ceremonies, powwows, coming back to together after so many years. When we’re celebrating, we want to come together, we want to do these things, but it’s the spiritual leaders, tribal leaders, community leaders, chapter house, they are the ones that need to make the decision on how to keep participants safe.”
The tribal community guidance can be found online at cdc.gov.
A Native-led organization in Rapid City, SD is encouraging community members to support businesses that stand in solidarity with Indigenous people. NDN Collective and members of the Native community are hosting a rally Wednesday seeking to boycott businesses they say have racist policies.
The action comes after a hotel owner called for a ban on Native American guests in March. NDN Collective has filed a class action lawsuit against the business claiming staff members were refused rooms on two occasions.
The group says the family is still profiting from other businesses in the Rapid City area. Tribal leaders across South Dakota came together for an “Indians Allowed” event in the city last month and are in support of a boycott.
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