Upon notification of the COVID-19 pandemic and its potential impact on the entire globe, Tribal nations implemented some of the most stringent preventative measures to protect their communities.

Pandemics and disease are far too familiar to Native American communities. The intentional introduction of smallpox into Native communities was one of our earliest introductions to the dangers that new viruses can present.

The COVID-19 virus has disparately impacted Native Americans. American Indians make up  12% of COVID-19 cases in South Dakota as compared to 9% for the American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) population according to the 2010 U.S. Census. 18% of the state's deaths are AI/AN.  Data from March 1-June 27 show American Indian/Alaska Native people hospitalized from COVID more than all other racial groups.

The sovereign authority of tribal-nations grants them the right to regulate action on their lands and the option to implement policies to protect tribal-citizens. The Oglala Sioux Tribe and the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe both chose to exert these rights by creating border checkpoints to help deter movement and the slow the spread of COVID-19 within their tribally maintained, constitutionally recognized borders.

Furthermore, we are community-oriented people. We know that what impacts our relatives who surround us impacts us. Protecting our relatives will affect the seven generations that come after us. While you see citizens of the United States concerned about mask mandates infringing on rights, it is evident that one of the least oppositional groups to preventative measures are tribal communities. I believe this because we know too well how detrimental the impact of diseases like COVID-19 can be and because we care about those around us.

Read the full article about empowering tribal nations during COVID-19 by Tamee Livermont at Charity Navigator.