Oklahoma tribes are taking preventative measures in response to the rapid spread of the novel coronavirus.
Multiple tribes, including the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, Osage Nation, Otoe-Missouria Tribe, and Seminole Nation have all declared a state of emergency.
“We are treating this as a serious situation,” Principal Chief David Hill said. “For several weeks now the Muscogee (Creek) Nation’s Department of Health has worked diligently to develop and implement emergency rules and procedures to protect our citizens and our communities. Because of the public health threat posed by COVID-19, the Muscogee (Creek) Nation is issuing a state of emergency. Through this declaration, we are taking necessary steps toward protecting our citizens.”
Under the terms of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation’s declaration, all employee work travel is halted indefinitely, as are large gatherings hosted by the tribe’s chartered community groups. The tribe’s health department has set up a COVID-19 hotline, 918-758-3550, to address questions and concerns during regular business hours.
Issued on March 19, the Osage Nation’s state of emergency orders the immediate closure of the tribe’s complex in Pawhuska to the public except for the WahZhaZhe Health Clinic. Non-essential employees have been sent home, including the entire staff of the tribe’s immersion school and head start programs.
For the Red Rock-based Otoe-Missouria Tribe, the emergency proclamation means all non-essential government personnel are on administrative leave until further notice, and the elder nutrition program will only provide meals via delivery.
As of March 20, all but a handful of tribal casinos across Oklahoma have closed their doors on a temporary basis in an effort to help stem the further spread of the virus. Several tribes, including the Fort Sill Apache, Kiowa, Cheyenne, and Arapaho, indicated preliminary plans to reopen after two to three weeks.
“On behalf of the Wichita Executive Committee, these were hard decisions for us to make and we stayed the course as long as we could but the health and safety of our tribal members, children, elders, employees, and community is of utmost importance in times like these,” President Terri Parton said. “Businesses can start back up and continue after all this is over but the loss of one even one tribal member, child, elder or employee or member of our community is too much if we put business ahead of our tribal members and employees.”
Others, including the Osage Nation, did not include a tentative reopening date in their closure announcement.
“We weighed this decision heavily because of the impact it will have on the Osage Nation,” Osage Casinos CEO Byron Bighorse said via press release. "However, the health and safety of our employees and guests is our top priority. We are in a time when the entire community needs to pull together for what is best, and that is preventing the spread of this global pandemic.”