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Some Tribes Worry Montana Is Reopening Too Soon

COVID-19 test kit.
COVID-19 test kit.

Native American tribes are taking varied approaches to Gov. Steve Bullock’s announcement Wednesday that Montana will lift the statewide stay at home order.

Some plan to align local restrictions with the state, while others will forge their own path.

On Apr. 22, Montana Gov. Steve Bullock presented a phased reopening of the state economy, adding that tribal governments may choose to continue restrictions or implement their own.

“I ask you to respect those local decisions,” Bullock said. 

Some tribes say it’s too soon.

Gerald Gray, chairman of the Little Shell Tribe of Chippewa Cree Indians, says he’s advising tribal members to maintain social distancing and other protective measures.

Sheild of the Little Shell Chippewa Tribe
Credit Little Shell Tribe /
Sheild of the Little Shell Chippewa Tribe

“And until we have a vaccine, I think we’re just putting the population at risk, because I don’t think putting it in the hands of the population or businesses to continue with social distancing and the guidelines wearing masks and etcetera, I don’t think the people will follow that," Gray said. 

Chief Administrative Officer for the Fort Belknap Indian Community Delina Cuts The Rope says the tribes’ incident command is also recommending that its tribal council hold off on following the governor’s phase-out plan.

She says they want to continue to protect their elders and the community is underprepared for a potential spread of the novel coronavirus.

“The national stockpile was not accommodating to our requests for supplies for essential workers," Cuts The Rope said. 

She says incident command recommends the tribe wait and see how lifting restrictions goes for the rest of the state.

Jared Stewart, public affairs officer for the Crow Tribe of Indians, said as far as he knows, the Crow Tribe will be on the safe side and keep restrictions, like a 10 p.m.  curfew and the closure of non-essential business, in place until Apr. 30.

The Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes’ spokesperson Robert McDonald says the tribes formed a unified command with Lake County and will meet Thursday to see how to proceed.

YPR also reached out to the Blackfeet Nation, the Chippewa Cree Tribe of Rocky Boys, the Northern Cheyenne Tribe and the Fort Peck Assiniboine & Sioux Tribes, but did not hear back by deadline. 

Kayla writes about energy policy, the oil and gas industry and new electricity developments.