CMF PSA 7-17-2020

Chairman Mark Fox of the MHA Nation began his weekly update with an unfortunate reminder that the pandemic is still affecting all of us. Around 40 states in the US have increased cases of COVID-19. As of July 17, 2020, there has been a record high number of cases on a national level. Increased cases mean more hospitalization, resulting in possible mortalities. While this is concerning, it is a great reminder that we need to keep practicing mitigation in order to deter the virus. Other reservations in the United States have not been as fortunate as the MHA Nation in dealing with COVID-19. The Navajo Nation has experienced severe loss and has higher case numbers and mortality rates than North Dakota, South Dakota, and Montana combined. Currently, there are two hotspots in our state which include Burleigh and Cass counties. 

Fox highly advocated for mask wearing, sanitizing hands frequently, as well as social distancing. “We are working towards a new balance, we cannot just hide in our homes anymore,” the Chairman stated. He went onto explain that North Dakota has 124 new positives as of July 17, 2020 and that there were around 90 deaths in the state. Seeing these increases has Chairman Fox concerned for the MHA Nation. “I encourage outdoor activities with social distancing and frequent hand washing as it is harder to contract the virus outdoors. I have been tested five times now, and I am concerned for my son and family’s health,” he explained. Fox gets tested for COVID-19 frequently, as he wants to ensure that he isn’t contributing to spreading the virus in any way. He is a firm believer in proper “PPE” and mitigation policies, while increasing the level of strictness when necessary. The MHA Nation Chairman explained, “If you need a mask, call us and we will get you one. The tribal office, Chairman’s office, or the MHA Nation Task Force will give you a mask.” There are also gift card incentives being given out to those who protect themselves and others by wearing their masks daily while out in public. “We want to acknowledge and show appreciation to those who choose to wear their masks,” Fox explained. If you or someone you know needs a mask, feel free to call 701-627-4781 and they will be happy to assist you. 

Mask wearing is important, as is frequent testing. Fort Berthold Reservation has been holding mass testing events that are open to the public. These testing events allow for data collection, which aids in educating our Tribal Business Council and Chairman of the MHA Nation to make the correct decisions to protect our people on the reservation. Looking at the data helps in forming a strategy on how to combat the virus within our community. Although Elbowoods Memorial Health Center was testing around 20 people per day, the mass testing events have proven that there is a higher prevalence of the virus in our area. Fort Berthold has set a record on the reservation for testing, as 995 tests were administered. 

The MHA Nation is trying to do things differently to help protect our people, compared to the state of North Dakota as well as the United States. We are encouraging mask wearing and strict mitigation measures. “I met with the governor regarding creating a new law to mandate mask wearing, as the Tribal Business Council will now require that everyone wear masks in public buildings,” Fox stated. “The state does not want to make it a requirement, but we will be working with all our vendors to make it a requirement within the MHA Nation. We will have penalties and fines in place if people and businesses do not comply.” Four Bears Casino will also be mandating masks for not only their employees, but their patrons as well. This mask mandate will not apply to private property or non-public areas. 

Chairman Fox went on to explain what the tribe will be doing for schools as they get closer to their re-opening dates. “I have been meeting with many officials around the state to discuss reopening plans for our schools’ common policy and procedure. The majority of MHA Nation’s schools want to continue with distance or online learning, and I agree with that. There is a vaccine coming, and we don’t need to rush. We are wanting to wait and watch how other schools around the state are impacted before we open. We must have a strategy and adjust accordingly. Time is on our side and the vaccine is coming,” the Chairman stressed. “We are not waiting until August to figure this out. We are doing everything we can in light of the schools’ choices and work with them to come up with a solid and precautionary, effective mitigation policy to stop rapid spread among our children and our homes.”

Despite the impacts our nation has suffered from the pandemic physically and economically, Elder payments will be distributed as well as the continued membership disbursements. Some tribes received significant CARES Act dollars, while MHA Nation barely received any funding. The tribe continues to move forward to find more federal funding. Along with this, the Department of Interior has decided to give our Missouri riverbed rights away to the state of North Dakota, violating their fiduciary trust responsibilities with our tribe. Fox explained, “MHA Nation has formally filed suit in Washington D.C. within the US Court of Claims. This is a land grab for the hundreds of millions of dollars that are in escrow. The riverbed belongs to us and it always has and always will. This is not to be compromised. We are forced to protect our rights and we continue to advocate and do everything necessary to do that. I am confident that it has always been ours, lawfully protected. We have to fight hard, and that is what we intend to do.”