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COVID-19 Surfacing on Tribal Lands in the Dakotas

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Monday, April 20, 2020   

BISMARCK, N.D. -- In recent weeks, Native American tribes have tried some aggressive approaches in their efforts to prevent the coronavirus from ravaging their territories.

But in the Dakotas, the virus has found its way to some reservations.

Scott Davis, executive director of the North Dakota Indian Affairs Commission, says heavy virus activity in the western part of the state prompted a wave of testing at the Fort Berthold Reservation.

As the commission waits for those results to come in, Davis says it needs to keep reminding members about following prevention guidelines, as well as curfews, shelter-in-place orders and checkpoints established by tribal governments.

"The more often that tribal members adhere to those laws, those tribal laws, I think those numbers will definitely decrease and hopefully not have any more spikes, hot spots, when it comes to a tribe," he states.

Davis says the commission also is following up with contact tracing in impacted areas.

The Standing Rock Indian Reservation, which covers both North and South Dakota, recently saw its first positive case of COVID-19.

The governors of both states have been criticized for not issuing stay-at-home orders. But Davis says tribal governments have the power to implement such orders for their territories, if needed.

He says all tribes in North Dakota have acted in accordance with the governor in declaring states of emergency. He says that's important because it paves the way for much needed resources in the fight against the pandemic.

Davis adds that tribes need assistance since key sources of revenue are not open right now.

"Casinos shutting down," he points out. "You know, casinos is the business, is the job maker, for each tribe."

And as tribal governments deal with revenue declines and rising costs in responding to the pandemic, they're still waiting to hear how federal relief money will be divvied up.

The federal government is required to distribute those funds by late April. Several tribes from other parts of the country have filed a lawsuit against the Treasury Department over concerns that money would go to for-profit Alaska Native corporations.


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