GREAT FALLS — Montana’s Native American Tribes are not letting their guard down against the COVID-19 pandemic.
Blackfeet Tribe Public Information Officer James McNeely says changes have been made to keep tribal members safe as the number of cases — including the omicron variant — rise nationwide.
"They wanted to go back to the Phase Two part,” McNeely explained.
On Monday, the tribe announced its intent to go back to Phase Two of the tribe's reopening plan but then said the next day that won't happen.
"What happened was, when all of the phased plans were put together by the tribe that was in 2020 and that was before the vaccine and the testing and all that. So we couldn't really go back to phase two so we had to scale back. When they retracted it per se, they had to just make some changes and really, based on the CDC guidelines, all they're saying is wear your mask and use hand sanitizers,” McNeely said.
As of Thursday, there were about 150 COVID cases on the reservation, some of them omicron.
"We want to ensure that our language, our culture, our people, the Blackfeet people, are kept safe. Especially our old people who are our link to our past,” McNeely said.
The Little Shell Tribe was also making every effort to protect tribal members.
"We have partnered with Alluvion Health and we're really watching to get vaccinations to our members. We're really watching any information that comes out. We're putting that information out to our members. via social media. We give an update every day to our staff and our tribal council,” said the Tribe’s health director Molly Wendland.
Masks were also being distributed on an as-needed basis and extra precautions had been put in place for staff who are unvaccinated.
“I was on a panel for native voices on the radio a number of months ago I was asked the question of ‘What questions do your members have right now?’ There’s not a lot of questions, everybody’s just tired of it,” said Wendland. “We’re so tired of the masks and all of these things. The challenge for us has been to really keep the motivation up for people to wear masks and be safe."
MTN News attempted to contact the Fort Peck, Fort Belknap, and Rocky Boy reservations Thursday for an update on COVID-19, but we have not yet received a response.