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Tribes Aim To Restrict Travel On Reservations

Montana Legislature


Last week the Montana State-Tribal Relations Committee sent out a letter asking the public to respect and comply with travel restrictions the state’s tribal governments have adopted to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus. 

The letter sent to state news publications encourages the public, residents and nonresidents to comply with efforts by tribal governments to restrict access to their communities.

State Sen. Jason Small, committee chairman, says the tribal governments are suggesting travelers use alternate routes around tribal land.

"They’re just trying to keep the influx of traffic at bay. They are trying to keep people out of town, from pulling in just to stop or negate the spread of COVID-19 . Hopefully not get it here where there is such a high risk to the population just due to underlying health concerns," Small said. 

Committee vice chair Representative Rae Peppers emphasizes the letter is not to single out any group but to inform truckers and other travelers of why these restrictions are in place. She says the tribes are trying to protect a community that lacks adequate medical infrastructure.

"If there was an outbreak in our communities they could not handle it. And they ask that we do everything we can by putting in closures," Peppers said. 

The state’s most recent analysis of its covid-19 data shows while Native Americans are not disproportionately infected with the covid-19 illness, complications are more severe. 30 percent of Native Americans with the virus required hospitalization, compared to 13 percent of covid-19 patients who identified as white. Native Americans also account for quarter of the state’s deaths.

The letter in its entirety is printed below:

May 7, 2020

Letter to the editor:

We, the below signed members of the State-Tribal Relations Committee, the Montana Legislature's liaison with tribal governments, write to encourage the public, residents and nonresidents alike, to comply with restrictions tribal governments adopt to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Although public highways and gas stations remain open across reservations, some tribal governments restrict access to their communities through signage, check points, and road blocks to buffer vulnerable, tightly knit populations where access to health care and other resources is limited.

Tribal governments may ask travelers to take other routes and to limit stops within reservation boundaries. Many beloved recreational opportunities are closed.

While some areas of the state reopen, tribal governments continue to take preventive measures to protect their members from COVID-19, especially elders who guard sacred traditions and oral histories.

Please respect the rights of the sovereign nations in Montana to do so, and help protect our tribal communities.

Respectfully submitted,

Senator Jason Small, Chair

Representative Rae Peppers, Vice Chair

Senator Jen Gross

Senator Dan Salomon

Senator Frank Smith

Representative Jade Bahr

Representative Joe Read

Representative Sharon Stewart Peregoy


Kay Erickson has been working in broadcasting in Billings for more than 20 years. She spent well over a decade as news assignment editor at KTVQ-TV before joining the staff at YPR. She is a graduate of Northern Illinois University, with a degree in broadcast journalism. Shortly after graduation she worked in Great Falls where she was one of the first female sports anchor and reporter in Montana.