Native Americans press for more funding as coronavirus spreads through tribes

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WASHINGTON (Gray DC) -- Indian reservations are facing a serious battle with COVID-19 as the virus infiltrates tribes across the country. Some tribe members feel like they’re going into the fight without adequate firepower.

“We’re working with what we have,” said Katrina Fuller a member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe’s coronavirus task force in South Dakota.

Fuller says her tribe is now facing 14 positive cases, when a week-and-a-half ago they had just two. With more COVID-19 cases popping up, she says her people lack resources and expertise.

“It’s always a fight. It’s always been a fight. We’re prepared for that. We’re used to that,” said Fuller.

Fuller says relief dollars are coming to her tribe but it took convincing. Without demanding inclusion in the bipartisan Congressional aid package, the CARES Act, she believes the government would have left them out.

She says they have their own plans in place as a sovereign government, like implementing travel restrictions and tracing the spread of the disease. But she says to aggressively fight the disease, they need $9 million.

Wizipan Little Elk is also a member of the tribe and worked in the Bureau of Indian Affairs during the Obama Administration. He says his people are often forgotten during difficult times in the U.S.

“We already have high unemployment. We already have low per capita income. So when something like this comes along it puts people in that much more distress,” said Little Elk.

The CARES Act spread $8 billion among the nation’s tribes. Fuller and Little Elk do not think that is enough for every tribe in the country. But the president highlighted it May 5 in Arizona as a historic cash infusion.

“This is the single largest investment in Indian country in our history. So the amount of money that’s being sent to “Indian country,” as we call it, is the largest amount in the history of the U.S. And you deserve it,” said President Trump.

The White House would not provide comment for this story. The Bureau of Indian Affairs also did not respond to a request for comment.

The president acknowledges the dire situation in Indian Country.

“It’s been incredible what’s taken place and there’s nothing we can say,” said Trump.

But Fuller says her tribe’s history is on the line if additional assistance does not come.

“This is a threat not only on our lives and our health but also our future as a tribe,” said Fuller.

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