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Michigan tribal governments prep for coronavirus — brace for impact on casinos and workers

A screenshot from a video posted on the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians' website, where tribal officials explain their coronavirus response.

IPR is compiling a list of major coronavirus response actions by tribal governments in Michigan. Staff will update it as often as possible through the pandemic.

The last update was on 03/31/2020 at 2:51 PM. Please refer to tribal government websites and social media pages for the most up-to-date information.

The Bay Mills Indian Community

- Declared a State of Emergency.

- Issued a Shelter at Home executive order, with a 10 PM - 6 AM curfew for all who live on the reservation.

- Closed Bay Mills Resort and Casino and King's Club Casino through April 30.

- Closed its tribal government offices (essential services are being maintained). 

- Adjusted hours at the tribal health clinic.

- Converted food pantry operations to curbside pickup.

- Created a mutual aid spreadsheet for community members.

- Set up a coronavirus hotline that tribal citizens should call if they have symptoms.

The Grand‌ ‌Traverse‌ ‌Band‌ ‌of‌ ‌Ottawa‌ ‌and‌ ‌Chippewa‌ ‌Indians‌
Closed Turtle Creek and Leelanau Sands Casinos.

- Closed its tribal government offices through April 13 (essential services are being maintained).

- Will conduct this spring's elections entirely via absentee ballot.

- Will close its food pantry when supplies are gone.

Closed its preschool program (will provide breakfast, lunch and snacks to families of preschoolers).

- Opened up a feature on its website where citizens can submit public health questions — and compiled the answers.
John Petoskey, a citizen of the Grand Traverse Band and a law student at U of M, is organizing volunteers to provide aid and information to vulnerable members of the community. If you are a GTB community member in need of help or looking to help, e-mail him at petosjoh@umich.edu.

"Tribal communities are among some of the most vulnerable in the nation to public health threats," says Petoskey. "My community is rural, elderly, and not near a major hospital. Further, many people are hesitant to trust information from government. For this reason, it is important that we organize our community and educate our citizens about the COVID-19 threat and offer neighborly assistance to one another."

The Gun Lake Tribe/Match-E-Be-Nash-She-Wish Band of Pottawatomi Indians

- Closed Gun Lake Casino.

- Closed its tribal government offices. The health center, clinic and pharmacy remain open.

- Is makingtribal council meetingsavailable to citizens via WebEx.

- Limited services at its convenience store.

Canceled all events through June 1.

The Hannahville Indian Community

- Closed The Island Resort and Casino.

Closed the Hannahville Indian School, the Nah-Tah-Wahsh Public School Academy, and childcare/head start programs.

- Reduced staff and adjusted operations at its tribal government offices.

- Postponed annual tribal elections and adoption requests.

- Is adjusting medical/health service operations.

- Limited pharmacy operations to drive-thru only.

The Keweenaw Bay Indian Community

Closed both Ojibwa Casinos.

- Closed nonessential tribal government offices.
- Is adjusting procedures at the tribal health clinic.

The Lac Vieux Desert Band of Lake Superior Chippewa

- Declared a State of Emergency.

- Issued a Stay-at-Home Resolution through April 30.

- Closed Northern Waters Casino Resort through April 30.

- Closed tribal government offices (essential services are being maintained).

- Is providing an emergency stimulus package for citizens, and deferring their debts.

The Little River Band of Ottawa Indians

- Declared a State of Emergency.

- Closed tribal government offices (essential services are being maintained).

ClosedLittle River Casino Resort.

-Closed its tribal court.

- Is moving its spring membership meeting to a virtual format on Saturday, April 25.

Canceled a regional symposium on the opioid crisis.
The Little‌ ‌Traverse‌‌ ‌Bay‌ ‌Bands‌ ‌of‌ ‌Odawa‌ ‌Indians‌

- Declared a State of Emergency.

- Closed both of its Odawa Casino locations through April 13.

Canceled‌‌ ‌all community events and commission, board and committee meetings through April 30.

- Closed tribal government offices (essential services are being maintained) through April 13.

- Adjusted operationsat its tribal health clinics.

- Closed tribal court to the public; postponed in-person hearings.

- Set up a dedicated page on its website for COVID-19 updates.

The Nottawaseppi Huron Band of the Potawatomi

- Closed Firekeepers Casino and Hotel.

- Closed tribal government offices (essential services are being maintained).

- Adjusted operations at its tribal health clinics.

- Is still holding elections this spring. Citizens are being encouraged to vote via absentee ballot.

- Reduced staff in its tribal court.

Postponed community events.

The Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians

- Closed all locations of Four Winds Casinos.

- Shut down nonessential tribal government operations and restricted access to all tribal government buildings. Michigan Indian Legal Services is still operating remotely.

- Postponed all community events including the annual meeting and tribal council meetings.

- Closed its Tribal Court to the public.

The Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe

- Closed the Soaring Eagle Casino & Resort, Saganing Eagles Landing Casino & Hotel and The Slot Palace & Bingo Hall.

- Closed tribal government offices (essential services are still being maintained). 

- Postponed all community events through the end of March.

The Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians

- Declared a State of Emergency for all reservation lands across its 7-county service area.

- Closed tribal government offices through May 3 (essential services are still being maintained).

- Closed all Kewadin Casinos.

- Canceled events.

- Closed its fitness center.

- Converted its elders' lunch program to curbside pickup and delivery only. 

Suspended all jury trials in its tribal court.

Original story

Update 03/18/2020: Bay Mills Indian Commmunity has acquired two test kits for COVID-19.

Update 03/16/2020: Bay Mills Indian Community is temporarily closing Bay Mills Resort and Casino.

Update 03/13/2020: Two employees of Bay Mills Indian Community were cleared of COVID-19.

Tribal governments in Michigan looking to protect their citizens from coronavirus are dealing with the same limitations as other governments.

They’re also facing some unique challenges — like how to provide servicesto citizens without gaming revenue if they have to close their casinos. 

Bryan‌ ‌Newland‌, the chairman of the Bay Mills Indian Community, ‌wishes‌ ‌his‌ ‌tribal‌ ‌health‌ ‌department‌ ‌had‌ its ‌own‌ ‌coronavirus‌ ‌test‌ ‌kits.‌

“They‌ ‌haven't‌ ‌been‌ ‌made‌ ‌available‌ ‌to‌ ‌us‌ ‌yet,” says Newland.‌ ‌“But‌ ‌we‌ continue‌ ‌to‌ ‌ask,‌ ‌like‌ ‌petulant‌ ‌kids.”‌

Newland ‌says‌ ‌his ‌tribe‌ ‌has‌ ‌been‌ ‌trying‌ ‌in‌ ‌vain‌ ‌to‌ ‌get‌ ‌two‌ ‌of‌ its employees‌ ‌tested‌ ‌for‌ ‌coronavirus.

The employees in question ‌traveled‌ ‌out‌ ‌of‌ ‌state‌ ‌for‌ ‌work‌ ‌recently,‌ ‌and‌ ‌spent‌ ‌time‌ ‌with‌ ‌somebody‌ ‌who‌ ‌might‌ ‌be‌ ‌sick‌ ‌with COVID-19. They‌ ‌don’t‌ ‌meet‌ ‌the‌ ‌criteria‌ ‌for‌ ‌testing,‌ ‌and‌ ‌for‌ ‌now,‌ ‌they’re‌ ‌‌self-quarantined‌‌ ‌at‌ ‌home.‌ ‌

The‌ ‌tribe‌ ‌suspended‌ ‌out-of-state‌ ‌work‌ ‌travel‌ ‌for‌ ‌all‌ ‌tribal‌ ‌staff.‌ ‌It ‌also‌ ‌canceled‌ ‌the‌ ‌afterschool‌ ‌program‌ ‌where‌ ‌the quarantined ‌employees‌ ‌work.‌ ‌But‌ ‌even‌ ‌if‌ ‌they‌ ‌don’t‌ ‌have‌ ‌the‌ ‌virus,‌ ‌Newland‌ ‌is‌ worried‌ ‌about‌ ‌the‌ ‌outbreak.‌

Health and money

Bay‌ ‌Mills‌ ‌Indian‌ ‌Community‌ ‌is‌ ‌one‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌largest‌ ‌employers‌ ‌in‌ ‌Chippewa‌ ‌County.‌ ‌Its ‌resort‌ ‌and‌ ‌casinos‌ ‌alone‌ ‌employ‌ ‌upwards‌ ‌of‌ ‌600‌ ‌people.‌ Staff are being encouraged to‌ ‌work‌ ‌from‌ ‌home, but‌ ‌many‌ ‌of‌ ‌their‌ ‌service‌ ‌workers‌ at the casinos can’t.‌

“I’m‌ ‌certain‌ ‌we’re‌ ‌not‌ ‌the‌ ‌only‌ ‌ones‌ ‌struggling‌ ‌with‌ ‌that,” says Newland. “We‌ ‌don't‌ ‌want‌ ‌to‌ ‌have‌ ‌a‌ ‌70-year-old‌ ‌host‌ ‌at‌ ‌our‌ ‌casino‌ choosing‌ ‌between‌ ‌paying‌ ‌his‌ ‌light‌ ‌bills‌ ‌and‌ ‌catching‌ ‌a‌ ‌disease‌ ‌that‌ ‌could‌ ‌be‌ ‌deadly.”‌ ‌

Newland‌ ‌says‌ ‌Bay‌ ‌Mills‌ ‌is‌ ‌looking‌ ‌at‌ ‌options‌ ‌to‌ ‌pay‌ ‌some‌ ‌people‌ ‌to‌ ‌not‌ ‌work, but ‌the tribe is ‌not‌ ‌in‌ ‌a‌‌ position‌ ‌to‌ ‌do‌ ‌that‌ ‌on‌ ‌a‌ ‌large‌ ‌scale. He also expects coronavirus to hurt the tribe’s‌ ‌casino ‌revenue.

“We're in the hospitality business and we're bracing for that. We're‌ ‌not‌ ‌chasing‌ ‌people‌ ‌away,‌ ‌but‌ ‌we‌ ‌don't‌ ‌wanna‌ ‌put‌ ‌money‌ ‌over‌ ‌people's‌ ‌health‌ ‌either.‌ ‌If‌ ‌you're‌ ‌65‌ ‌years‌ ‌old,‌ ‌and‌ ‌you‌ ‌have‌ ‌COPD‌ ‌or‌ ‌you're‌ ‌recovering‌ ‌from‌ ‌lung‌ ‌cancer,‌ ‌you‌ ‌should‌ ‌probably‌ ‌not‌ ‌be‌ ‌out‌ ‌in‌ ‌public‌ ‌right‌ ‌now‌ ‌touching‌ ‌things‌ ‌other‌ ‌people‌ ‌are‌ ‌touching.”‌

Folks are taken care of

Newland‌ ‌wants‌ ‌any‌ ‌Bay‌ ‌Mills‌ ‌citizen‌ ‌who‌ ‌has symptoms or fears‌ ‌they’ve‌ ‌been‌ ‌exposed‌ ‌to‌ ‌coronavirus‌ ‌to‌ ‌call‌ ‌the‌ ‌tribal‌ ‌health‌ ‌department.‌ ‌A coronavirus hotline has been set up.

He says the tribe is ‌coordinating‌ ‌with‌ ‌local‌ ‌and‌ ‌state‌ ‌health‌ ‌departments, and‌ can help‌ tribal citizens with ‌quarantines‌ — ‌self-imposed‌ ‌or‌ ‌otherwise.‌ ‌ ‌

“We‌ ‌have‌ ‌an‌ ‌informal‌ ‌network‌ ‌making‌ ‌sure‌ ‌that‌ ‌folks‌ ‌have‌ ‌food,‌ ‌toilet‌ ‌paper,‌ ‌have‌ ‌water,‌ ‌and‌ ‌are‌ ‌taken‌ ‌care‌ ‌of,” says Newland. “That's‌ ‌stuff, if‌ ‌we‌ ‌know‌ ‌about,‌ ‌we‌ ‌can‌ ‌arrange‌ ‌for‌ ‌[it].”

He worries about the psychological impacts to elders who have to stay at home, and wants them to know they’re being thought of.

Kaye LaFond
Kaye is an alumnus of Michigan Tech's environmental engineering program. She got her start making maps for the Traverse City-Based water news organization Circle of Blue, and, since then, she's been pretty devoted to science communication and data visualization.