Urban Native COVID-19 Response Initiative

Urban Native Rapid COVID-19 Response Initiative

Sioux City Tri-State Area of Iowa, Nebraska and South Dakota

Before COVID-19, Indigenous Peoples across the US suffered from the highest rates of substance abuse, suicide, violence, unemployment, and poverty in the country. We are now experiencing an overwhelming increase in these crises, as well as increased morbidity rates due to a lack of support from Congress. This support is badly needed in communities with the highest diabetes rate in the world, inability to properly quarantine, high rates of transience, an aging population, and insufficient medical services.

There was a surge of positive cases within the Sioux City Tri-State area due to the natural progression of the virus moving inward from the coasts and into rural areas and reservations in the Midwest. One major contributing factor to the upswing was also the fact that meatpacking plants, CAFOs, and other agricultural factories all over the country remained open despite alarmingly high rates of COVID-19 cases. Most of their employees come from the indigenous and immigrant communities. Locals report that many tribal members travel from the reservations to report to work at these plants.

In fact, temporary job staffing agencies employ many POCs at these meat packing plants because it is known as a "revolving door of labor." Val Uken of the Urban Native Center in Sioux City stated that about 48% of our homeless population are Native. These staffing agencies are a way for them to earn some cash, but also may feel forced into being exposed to COVID-19. If stricken with this virus, they are replaceable with someone else. 

Governors Kim Reynolds (IA), Pete Ricketts (NE), and Kristi Noem (SD) have not mandated plants to report any positive cases. In the event that plants decide to report, an outbreak is not reported unless at least 10% of their whole plant is affected. Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds does not disclose outbreaks unless the media inquiries about it. On May 26th, Perdue Farms locations in Sioux City and Sioux Center of Iowa both confirmed outbreaks. Two days later, Storm Lake's Tyson plant also confirm an outbreak. All locations are in the vicinity of the Tri-State area. In addition, employees who may become ill may not disclose their status to others in fear of losing income from time missed at work and having their status publicized on social media. This irresponsible behavior has led to a possible increase in infections in family members, friends, and community members of these workers. Inaccurate reporting can also include demographics that may not be inclusive to multi-racial ethnicities. Multi-racial individuals may feel forced to pick one option if filling out demographic information on forms and questionnaires. All three states encouraged people to wear masks, but have never enforced a mask mandate. In fact, Governor Noem made fireworks legal and hosted President Trump's Fourth of July extravaganza without encouraging social distancing nor wearing masks. 

Val Uken, Director of the Urban Native Center, organizing masks

Indigenous families signing up for Census and other services while waiting for their PPE

First PPE distribution was on July 31st in Sioux CIty, IA

As of the end of May, the COVID-19 pandemic has killed more than 100,000 in the US. The majority of these deaths have occurred in the elderly and those with an immune-compromised system. Indigenous populations in the US face an increased threat in this capacity as we have an aging population and disproportionately high levels of chronic illnesses. We have the highest rates of diabetes in the world and one of the highest rates in the country for kidney, lower respiratory, and coronary heart diseases. Additionally, Indian Health Services (IHS) already faces a host of problems and is ill-equipped to monitor and investigate COVID-19 cases. Tribal officials and national health experts predict that Indian Country will face significant morbidity rates due to the health factors that increase complications. However, other factors also contribute to these projections, such as high unemployment, poverty and homeless rates, overcrowded homes, lack of access to clean water, and no proper protective equipment.

While federally recognized Tribal Nations have received funding from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, also known as the CARES Act, many are still doing what they can to provide PPE and resources for shelter in place situations. However, citizens living off the reservation are not receiving these resources as many lack transportation and finances to travel to their homelands to get the help they desperately need. Local schools are planning to re-open with a hybrid model of on-site and virtual learning. However, Morningside Elementary just reported a positive case of COVID-19. It is unclear whether it was a staff member or student. This raises many concerns for our Indigenous families, especially children who are faced with having to go on-site for learning. 

The darker shades indicate high positive COVID-19 cases. Map source: New York Times

Map updated: August 12, 2020

Great Plains Action Society is located in Sioux City, IA; central to the Tri-State area and epicenter to meatpacking plants. Tribal members from the Santee Sioux, Ponca, Winnebago, Omaha and Ihanktowan Nations surround this area. With the recent news of states reopening, we fear that a second wave is waiting on the horizon. We are trying to prepare our urban Native community in making sure that they and their loved ones have access to protection if they choose to seek it. 

We helped serve over 100 Indigenous families and 80 students by providing duffle bags and drawstring bags filled with coloring books, crayons, PPE, and basic hygiene items

Thank you to Sew You Care - Native American and Indigenous Outreach, Masks for the Frontline - Iowa, and any other seamstresses that helped sew and donate masks for our community!

The Urban Native Center and Great Plains Action Society are working together to make sure that Indigenous Peoples in the Sioux City Tri-State area receive PPE and resources to prevent a potential mass outbreak within the Urban Native and reservation communities. One of our many goals is to help alleviate any stress and anxiety by offering a place they can turn to when all others cannot help. We compiled a list for starting goals, but may be subject to change due to supply-and-demand. We will need help with the following: 

  • Proper PPE (masks; sewn and/or surgical, gloves) (500 Adult Masks, 500 Children Masks, 500 Face Shields)

  • Basic hygiene necessities (i.e. soap, hand sanitizer, laundry detergent) (300 of each, 500 hand sanitizers)

  • Diapers (all sizes - 50 of each)

  • Feminine hygiene (Tampons, Pads) (200 of each)

  • Cleaning supplies (Lysol, Fabuloso, paper towels, toilet paper, Clorox wipes (100 each)

  • Tissues (200)

  • OTC medicine (Tylenol -NO IBUPROFEN) (200)

  • Indigenous Herbal Remedies (no limit)

  • Food (i.e. non-perishable items, flour, yeast, ramen noodles) (no limit)

  • Water/Gatorade (A pallet of each)

  • Gas cards for drivers who are willing to shop and drop off items for the elderly, single-parents/caregivers, and immunocompromised ($25-$50 increments)

  • Lice Kits/Treatments (25)

  • Workbooks, coloring books, crayons, markers for children

  • Backpacks (we will fill with supplies for our homeless relatives) (50)

  • Smaller A/C units (20) 

We are putting the call out and asking for your help. If you would like to donate, please click here

Please e-mail if you would like to send/donate items

(402) 431-2429

ALL proceeds will go directly to the Indigenous community members of the Tri-State area; ZERO percent will not be used to benefit any or one organization. We are here to help our indigenous communities through this pandemic!

Philámayaye - Pįnągigi- Thank you

Plains-Indigenous Peoples resisting colonization and Indigenizing the world

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