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Indian Country deals with coronavirus

The coronavirus pandemic has had a profound impact on Indian Country, including the Seminole Tribe, which has taken numerous steps to protect community members, employees and guests at its businesses.

Tribal Council declared an emergency closing of Tribal offices effective March 16 until further notice. Some Tribal businesses are partially operational. Here’s a rundown of what’s open and closed around the reservations as of March 18.

Until further notice the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum and Billie Swamp Safari are closed. The Swamp Water Café is open for takeout for Big Cypress community members only. Sadie’s restaurant in BC is open for takeout from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., and the store is limiting the number of customers inside at one time. BC’s Seminole Fuel is pay at the pump only, no cash accepted. The Ahfachkee School is closed and is in the process of creating a digital learning plan for students.

Also in BC, the 24th annual Junior Cypress Cattle Drive & Rodeo, which had been scheduled for April 4 at the Junior Cypress Rodeo Arena, has been postponed until further notice.

In Brighton, the Trading Post is operational with limited hours from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. The Brighton Subway store at the Trading Post is takeout only from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.  The Glades County School District, which includes Pemayetv Emahakv Charter School, announced March 17 that schools will be closed until April 15. PECS has a virtual instruction program ready to implement if necessary.

All state assessment tests have been cancelled for the 2019-20 school year.

The Hollywood Trading Post is open from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m., but Bigg E’s BBQ at the site is closed.

All Seminole casinos, including Hard Rock Hollywood and Hard Rock Tampa , have implemented safety measures to help protect guests and employees from COVID-19. Poker rooms are closed until further notice, fewer players are seated at table games, and many slot machines have been turned off to create social distancing between guests. Additionally, entertainment shows and concerts have been postponed, and several bars and restaurants are not open.

Elsewhere, the National Indian Gaming Association has asked for $18 billion in U.S. federal aid to help soften the financial hit to Indian Country. In a letter to addressed to Representatives Deb Haaland, D-N.M., and Tom Cole (R-OK) of the Congressional Native American Caucus, NIGA wrote that tribal governments will default on loans and won’t be able to provide health and education services without federal support to make up for lost casino revenues due to the coronavirus pandemic.

NIGA’s Indian Gaming Tradeshow and Convention, scheduled for March 24-27 in San Diego, has been postponed.

Disruptions abound

A host of other events throughout Indian Country have had to adjust to the pandemic with cancellations and postponements. One organization even moved from the real world to the virtual one.

The 38th annual conference of the Native American Finance Officers Association was supposed to be held in Nashville, Tennessee, April 6-7,  but COVID-19 changed all that. NAFOA will hold a virtual version of the conference April 20-21. For more information, visit nafoa.org.

Like many other colleges and universities in the country, Haskell Indian Nations University in Lawrence, Kansas, has told students not to come back to school after spring break. It also suspended spring commencement, athletics seasons, intramural athletics and prospective student visits because of the pandemic. Students were told that all course instruction and associated requirements are transitioning to virtual, or remote, instruction. The transition is expected to be completed by March 23. Students have been advised to remain in contact with faculty and advisers.

In more student news, the annual Heard Museum Guild student art show and sale in Phoenix, Arizona, has been changed from March 27-30 to April 24-27. Every year Native American students in grades 7-12 are invited to submit their artwork.  Founded in 1986, the show provides emerging young artists a venue to showcase their talent in traditional and fine art. The Heard Museum is world renowned for its presentation, interpretation and advancement of American Indian art.

The coronavirus has caused the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., which includes the National Museum of the American Indian, to close its doors but that hasn’t stopped it from offering online education and enrichment. In an effort to ease the effects of massive school closures nationwide, the Smithsonian has an array of distance learning resources available. NMAI’s Native Knowledge 360° provides educators and students with new perspectives on Native American history and cultures. For more information visit americanindian.si.edu.

Although the vast majority of the Big Cypress National Preserve in the Everglades is outside, it has closed two visitor centers and a ranger-led program has been cancelled. However, the preserve, restrooms and campgrounds remain open to the public.

Indian Country news

On March 17, Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez and Vice President Myron Lizer were informed by the Navajo Department of Health that a second tribal member tested positive for the COVID-19 coronavirus.

The Tlingit & Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska have postponed the 85th annual tribal assembly because of the pandemic. It had been scheduled for April 22-24 in Juneau, Alaska, and will be rescheduled at a later date. Meanwhile, to ensure the safety of its employees, citizens, clients and the general public, the Central Council has closed its offices in Juneau and all remote field offices until further notice.

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Beverly Bidney
Beverly Bidney has been a reporter and photographer for The Seminole Tribune since 2012. During her career, she has worked at various newspapers around the country including the Muskogee Phoenix in Oklahoma, Miami Herald, Associated Press, USA Today and other publications nationwide. A NAJA award winning journalist, she has covered just about everything over the years and is an advocate for a strong press. Contact her at beverlybidney@semtribe.com.
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