Boozhoo! Usually the month of December is a slower month for tribal governments, but this December has been full of very big news. After ten months of battling the coronavirus, the Band received our first shipment of vaccine from the Indian Health Service (IHS). The first batch of Pfizer COVID-19 vaccinations were rolled out December 17. Our clinic staff have administered 165 doses, with the priority on health care workers and Elders. More vaccine is coming and will eventually be offered Band-wide.
There was initially a problem with the first batch of vaccine delivered to us by IHS. When the IHS official opened his vehicle, alarms were going off in the shipment. One alarm was due to the vaccine falling below the recommended temperature for a period of 50 minutes while in transit to the Reservation, and two other alarms went off due to the vaccine being at higher temperatures in the “violation” category for a period of 10 minutes.
Our providers had to make an immediate decision about whether to administer the vaccine or request a second shipment. At the time we had to make the decision, federal authorities through Operation Warp Speed and the Centers for Disease Control had not concluded whether the vaccine was safe for us to administer, so we decided we could not take any chances. A new shipment came on December 17 and was administered.
There will be more shipments to come, but everyone must continue wearing masks, social-distancing, and hand-washing, because the vaccine is not going to bring an end of the pandemic right away. Officials are predicting that it might not be until next summer that most Americans will have a chance to receive the vaccine.
The other big news in December is that our good friend Congresswoman Deb Haaland of New Mexico, one of the first two Native women to be elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, has been nominated by President-elect Joe Biden to lead the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI). She will be the first American Indian to serve on any President’s Cabinet if she is confirmed by the Senate.
This is such an historic moment. Agencies that are critical to us are housed in Interior, including the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Bureau of Indian Education, and the Bureau of Trust Funds Administration, but the reach of the DOI over our lives extends far beyond just those agencies. Every day, decisions are made or actions undertaken by all DOI bureaus and offices that affect our children, Elders, communities, and lives. This includes the management and leasing of our lands, our economic development, tribal sovereignty, law enforcement and public safety, our Treaty rights, access to clean water, our food security, management of our trust funds, our plants, animals, fish and birds, and even our religious freedom.
Finally, an American Indian leader will be leading that Department and sitting at the same table as the President of the United States. Rep. Haaland knows us as Native people. She was raised in the warrior tradition by parents who served in the armed forces, she has lived on a reservation, and she is traditional. She was a single mother who fought her way out of poverty, eventually becoming an attorney to fight for the rights of Indian people. This is such an exciting moment in history for Indian country, and I hope to be able to call her “Madame Secretary” when I next see her.
There were many other developments this month and meetings attended, including Zoom meetings of the Tribal Executive Committee (TEC) of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe, Band Assembly and Cabinet meetings, the Tribal Nations Leadership Council of the U.S. Department of Justice, and meetings organized by the office of Governor Walz and Lt. Governor Flanagan. I also held a Zoom meeting with Minnesota State House Speaker Melissa Hortman about the Band’s priorities, and had a very good conversation with Senator Amy Klobuchar as well.
These times have been very challenging for the Band, just as it has for all other tribes, the state, and the nation. I think it is safe to say that with the global pandemic, 2020 has been one of the hardest years we have collectively faced in many generations. I am so grateful to our Band members and workforce for coming together to get us through this period, and I look forward to 2021 being a year of hope, recovery, and progress. I wish all Band members a safe and happy holiday season, and look forward to addressing you all at our first “Virtual” online State of the Band Address on January 12.