31 Aug 2021
NOTNative American tribes across the handful of American states banning school mask warrants have asserted their powers as sovereign nations to defy orders, some also implementing their own testing and vaccine guidelines for dozens of thousands of students and teachers in schools on their reserves as Covid-19 cases rise.
Under the U.S. constitution, federally recognized tribes, such as the Navajo Nation and the Cherokee Nation, have self-governing authority and have therefore been able to implement mask warrants despite statewide bans. .
Jason Dropik, chairman of the board of the National Indian Education Association and director of the Indian Community School of Wisconsin, said the majority of the Indigenous communities he had heard of in the banned states had mandates in place to mask.
The reasoning, he explained, was often tied to the fact that Native Americans have faced a disproportionate death toll from Covid. According to an analysis released in February, one in 475 American Indians has died since the start of the pandemic – a greater proportion of any other demographic in the country.
“When we have losses, and we do every year, even outside of a pandemic, but when you increase that amount of loss, there are ways of being that just don’t continue to be taught, and that can be completely lost, ”Dropik said.
“It’s not just about someone’s life, which in itself has a huge impact, but also about ways of being, cultural traditions, language and work that sometimes also pass with our native speakers. .
State leaders in Oklahoma, Utah, Arizona, Iowa and South Carolina have implemented mandatory mask bans in schools. The civil rights enforcement arm of the Education Department said Monday it has launched investigations in all five states to determine whether their ban on mask warrants discriminates against students with disabilities.
The rulers of Florida, Texas and Arkansas have also added bans, but due to legal challenges they are not being enforced or have been blocked altogether.
The Navajo Nation, the largest tribe in the country, reaffirmed in early August a mask mandate for the 133 schools with K-12 students on its reservation, covering more than 27,000 square miles in Utah, Arizona and New Mexico.
Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez said students and staff have met the requirement scrupulously. Since last week, there has been no evidence of the spread of Covid in schools so far this school year, he said.
President Nez attributed this success in part to the fact that Covid was not politicized within the tribe, but rather framed in a historical context as the last monster afflicting the community that must be defeated.
“With any war, any battle, you have to be equipped, you have to have your armor and you have to have your weapons,” he said. “And one of the armors we have is the vaccine. And one of the weapons we have is the mask and hand sanitizers. And so we framed it that way so that our elders can understand what we are dealing with. And they helped us and helped talk to our younger generation.
The Meskwaki Settlement School, which belongs to the Sac and Fox tribe of Mississippi and is the only Indigenous tribe recognized by the federal government in Iowa, also announced a mask requirement for students and staff. And in Arizona, the Hopi tribe and the White Mountain Apache tribe made it mandatory to wear masks in schools.
Covid cases in the Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma have risen sharply since July, with the total number of weekly cases reaching more than 1,000 in August. Over the summer, tribal chiefs made the decision to implement a mask requirement for hundreds of students at his high school and immersion school for the new school year. They also included weekly Covid testing requirements in schools and vaccination warrants for extracurricular activities.
Chief Cherokee Nation Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr has described schools as some of the safest places to go in the region thanks to these protocols. He said there had only been two documented cases of Covid this school year.
But more than 95% of students on the reserve attend an Oklahoma public school, which, while located on the reserve, is not run by Indigenous leaders. Hoskin described the situation as frustrating and said he couldn’t recall another time when the tribe’s school system took a different approach to health than Oklahoma public schools.
“In terms of operations and basic things like health and safety, it has never really occurred to me as a tribal chief that the schools operating on our state reserve would be so miserable. fall short of such a fundamental health and safety measure, “he said. “Covid and the law, pushed by the governor [Kevin] Stitt, of course changed all that, and I hope that’s an anomaly.
He added: “Unfortunately, even though it is an anomaly, it is very expensive.”
In Tahlequah, Oklahoma, which is the capital of the Cherokee Nation, the principal of Tahlequah public schools reported last week that in the first 10 days of school, they have seen more than 100 cases of Covid. Later in the week, schools opted to move all elementary sites to distance education until September 3 due to understaffing and increasing cases for staff and students.
Other tribes in these areas have faced similar situations, in which the schools their students attend do not fall under the jurisdiction of the tribe.
The Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes, for example, do not have reserved lands, so students attend Oklahoma public schools.
Cheyenne and Arapaho’s Education Department Executive Director Carrie F Whitlow explained that while the tribes are taking a serious stand on Covid safety protocols – there have been mask warrants for children over five-year-olds and teachers, and tests and immunization requirements for teachers at its two daycares and three head start centers – its leaders have had no say in the rules in schools public.
“We are really trying to do our best,” she said. “However, due to our lack of authority in public school districts, they don’t really ask us for advice from a tribal and tribal education department, when it comes to our students and their families and how to protect them- we.”
But tribal leaders have continued to ensure that students still have access to the masks and understand their importance. Earlier this month, the Department of Education’s Facebook page featured a post from Whitlow wishing students a safe and healthy school year.
She then added: “Please do your best to protect your homes and communities by wearing a mask.”