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Tribe adjusts but stays active as phase two returns

Just 12 days after moving to phase three of reopening, the Seminole Tribe returned to phase two protocols July 17 as Covid-19 cases began to rise in the U.S.

The tribe took the step to protect tribal members, the community and employees from the more contagious Delta variant of coronavirus. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on July 20, 83% of Covid cases are the Delta variant, up from 50% during the week of July 3.

During phase two, which originally went into effect April 5, all tribal programs remain fully operational. Tribal members are asked to wear masks and remain socially distanced when not at home.

Most events have been postponed until further notice, including tribe-sponsored travel for groups and individuals. Among the postponed events are all community meetings, movie nights in Hollywood, We Do Recover’s annual celebration, the Chairman’s office cornhole and horseshoe events, the Indian Day fishing tournament and a Center for Student Success and Services (CSSS) visit to Indian River State College.

No large indoor gatherings or meetings are permitted. Anyone with symptoms, or if anyone in their household has symptoms, are asked not to enter a tribal building and to call their clinic or doctor.

The tribe strongly encourages everyone who has not yet received a Covid-19 vaccine to get vaccinated.
Senior centers continue to provide deliveries of non-perishable items for disabled and homebound elders.
CSSS requires appointments to meet in person with staff members. Appointments must be confirmed at least 24 hours in advance.

All tribal casinos remain open.

During the phase three opening, which began July 6, tribal departments opened their doors and began creating their calendars for activities. All of that has been put on hold for the time being.

Community culture centers

When phase three took effect in Immokalee the Community Culture department made plans to resume its community cooking class and luncheons on the third Wednesday of each month, starting in August. Site coordinator Juanita Martinez was also looking forward to starting beading and sewing classes again.

“We are trying to get back on track,” Martinez said.

During the first shutdown, which began March 16, 2020, the department helped with drive-thru events and cooked meals for traditional purposes as needed. During phase two, community members came to the culture room by appointment only and remained masked and socially distanced while there.

In Hollywood, the Culture Center reopened daily during phase three. Now it is open by appointment only. During the shutdown, the center organized fine arts and arts and crafts contests for the virtual Indian Day 2020 and Tribal Fair 2021 events.

“We had ups and downs, but Tribal Fair went well enough to be successful,” said Bobby Frank, Community Culture Center manager. “Anything you venture into for the first time, you don’t know. Indian Day was a daunting task, but we had some insight for Tribal Fair. It was tribalwide and we were able to promote the event’s arts and crafts, clothing and fine arts.”

The Hollywood center also created on online virtual language class for tribal members, which they plan to continue indefinitely.

“We’ve been doing that for 12 months,” Frank said. “It’s grown beyond Florida borders. We have members throughout the country in New England, Washington State, Montana and Oklahoma. This is a silver lining.”

“With that virtual platform we have been able to reach out to tribal members we never would have been able to reach,” added Michael Cantu, office coordinator.

Classes continue to be held Monday through Thursday at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m.

The Brighton Community Culture Center got up and running quickly when the tribe opened up partially. During phase two, it held a few events for youth and adults. In June, a group collected fans for chickees and another group went to Yeehaw to pick sweetgrass. After the full reopening in July, a group harvested swamp cabbage on the reservation.
The department’s plans for the full reopening were already in place when phase two was reinstated. Community Culture Center manager Diane Smith organized a schedule to keep tribal members focused and busy on projects. A new project was to be rolled out every two weeks and participants would learn as they created patchwork, baskets, carvings and beadwork. On Fridays, everyone would be free to work on any project they desired.

“We scheduled a new project for people to work on,” Smith said. “They will make two, one that will stay at the center and one to take home.”

Those items would be used for Council and Board giveaways and gifts.

The Big Cypress Culture Center stayed busy cooking for traditional purposes and for drive-thru events during the shutdown. It also made items for Council and Board representatives to use for donations or gifts. The department has assisted families in mourning throughout the pandemic and will continue as needed.

Like the other culture departments, the center is open by appointment only.

“When we opened, we started to make a calendar for classes,” said Tonia Cypress, Community Culture Center manager. “We have to comply with social distancing and keep it to two students at a time instead of classes.”

The center will continue to make traditional fry bread for seniors on Wednesday and make traditional meals for the community in a monthly drive-thru event.

Boys & Girls Clubs

Boys & Girls Clubs tribalwide have adjusted their capacity and rules to adhere to phase two procedures. The number of kids allowed into the clubs has decreased for all three age groups: kids club, youth and teens. Social distancing guidelines are enforced, masks are required and temperature checks are done daily. Plexiglas dividers on each table and assigned seating help keep the children separated.

Additionally, the age groups in each club must stay separated from each other.

The schedule remains the same, from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., but the drop off time is only between 9 a.m. and 10 a.m. After that, the doors will be locked and no one else is allowed inside.

“We are taking precautions,” said Patrick Shepard, Immokalee club director. “The pandemic is still out there. The kids who are late are disappointed, but they can try to get here early next time.”

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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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