NAVAJO NATION — The Navajo Nation of Arizona shut down all non-Native vehicle access to their reserve lands, protecting its people against the COVID-19 pandemic. Officials announced on March 2 the first case of the coronavirus in Navajo Country.
The problem is, the State governor, wants to force the Tribal Council to bring down the barricades and reopen access to all National Monuments and historic sites within their territory.
“We know that there are many concerns about the in-flow of tourism,” said Jonathan Nex, president of the Navajo Nation. “And while we don’t have oversight over all tourist attractions, we also want to let you know that we’re addressing the public concern.”
The Nation’s move to declare a state of emergency earlier this week for the COVID-19 pandemic, also known as “Diko Ntsaaígíí-Náhást’éíts’áadah” in the Navajo language.
The Navajo Nation is the largest First Nation in the United States covering 71,000 square kilometers and an estimated population of 244,000. the Navajo Nation, which spans across northern Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah.
According to Tribal leaders, limiting the number of people exiting and entering the sovereign nation and ensuring all their members have access to accurate information about the outbreak and prevention measures, despite challenges.
The Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, located near the Washington state border in Oregon, also confirmed an employee at the tribe’s casino tested positive for the disease. Tribal leaders have temporarily closed the Wildhorse Resort and Casino for cleaning following the discovery. All the Navajo Nation Tribal Parks have also been barricaded by members of the Navajo Nation.
On March 2, officials announced the first case of the coronavirus in Indian Country. In a press release, the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, located near the Washington state border in Oregon, confirmed an employee at the tribe’s casino tested positive for the disease. Tribal leaders have temporarily closed the Wildhorse Resort and Casino for cleaning following the discovery.
“The IHS has commission corps officers helping at our facilities, and sometimes those individuals are sent out to other ‘hot zones,’ or areas that might be affected by this outbreak,” said Nez. “It’s not up to us, but the part that is up to us is reentry into our sovereign nation.”
Their fears are well-founded.
Elsewhere in Indian Country reservations caretaking preventative measures.
Agency Village, South Dakota — The Oceti Sakowin of the Dakota/Nakota/Lakota Oyate or Seven Council Fires of the Great Sioux Nation stand united to protect our Native people from the ravages of the Coronavirus COVID-19. Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate represents two of the traditional Seven Council Fires, and we have conferred with our sister Dakota/Nakota/Lakota Nation Tribes and we stand united in supporting our inherent sovereignty and treaty rights to protect our Native people.
“Our Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate and the Spirit Lake Tribe entered the 1867 Sioux Nation treaty preserving our traditional lands at the Lake Traverse Reserve and Spirit Lake Tribe. The 1868 Sioux Nation Treaty set aside the Great Sioux Reservation as the ‘permanent home’ of our Sioux Nation tribes, including the Cheyenne River and Oglala Sioux, our traditional Itancan—leaders—reserved our rights to self-determination and self-government.”
He adds, “perhaps the most essential power of sovereignty is self-defense, protecting the lives of our Native Peoples. The Federal Courts have consistently ruled that Indian nations have inherent sovereign authority over our “members” and our “territory,” and the Federal Courts have expressly ruled that our Indian nations retain jurisdiction over our highways:
in Rosebud Sioux Tribe v. South Dakota, 900 F.2d 1164 (8th Cir. 1990). Rosebud reversed the district court’s decision which had sustained the state’s exercise of jurisdiction over highways running through reservations in the state.
Accordingly, in South Dakota v. Spotted Horse, 462 N.W.2d 463 (1990) affirmed that the State has no jurisdiction over Indians—or tribal police officers—on tribal reservation roads.
In contrast, Tribal Police retain authority to stop, detain, search and transport or eject all alleged offenders—Indian or non-Indian—on reservation highways. For example, in United States v. Terry, (8th Cir. 2005), the Federal Court of Appeals explained:
The Supreme Court has recognized that tribal law enforcement authorities possess “traditional and undisputed power to exclude persons whom they deem to be undesirable from tribal lands,” and therefore have “the power to restrain those who disturb public order on the reservation, and if necessary to eject them.”
Reasonably, Tribal Governments have the power to protect the public health and safety on reservation roads. In Terry, our Federal Court of appeals ruled that tribal police have the authority to “detain non-Indians whose conduct disturbs the public order on their reservation,” and upheld the Oglala Sioux Tribe’s overnight detention of a non-Indian offender and the search of his pick-up under the so-called “automobile exception” to the 4th Amendment’s warrant requirements.
In North Carolina, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians reported three new cases on Monday, bringing the total number of tribe members infected to six. Two individuals are residents of Jackson County and one individual resides in Cherokee County. All remain isolated in their homes.
The Cherokee Nation Health Service reported that its total number of positive cases as of Monday was 31, reflecting three new cases for the Oklahoma tribe.
Also on Monday, the White Mountain Apache Tribe in Arizona reported two new confirmed positive cases, bringing the total number to 20, according to a Facebook post by Chairwoman Gwendena Lee-Gatewood. The post also notes one non-resident tribal member has tested positive for COVID-19.
The Gila River Indian Community outside of Phoenix reported one additional case on Monday, according to a video posted last evening by Chairman Steven Rowe, who also talked about progress in speeding up testing for the virus and the tribe’s purchase of equipment that provides high-capacity testing and results in as little as 15 minutes.
In Canada, there are First Nations in quarantine and lockdown with access roads blocked and only residents allowed to enter. Many other First Nations have declared a state of emergency.