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Urban Native COVID-19 and Mutual Aid

Urban Native and Mutual Aid 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.

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According to the New York Times, Iowa now has the third-highest rate of positive COVID-19 cases in the nation. This has forced Iowa (R) Kim Reynolds into signing a new proclamation, which mandates wearing masks and social distancing effective November 11th to November 30th. She has continuously failed to realize the severity of the pandemic by not opting to intervene with such important safety measures. As of November 18, 2020, Iowa has now at least 195,513 reported cases and 2,064 deaths. The numbers could be higher due to individuals who chose not to get tested and workplaces such as Tyson Fresh Meats unwillingness to share their data with the Iowa Public Health Department. On May 27th, Reynolds defended Iowa’s policy to not disclose outbreaks, but would in the event that the media asked. Iowa Department of Public Health Deputy Director Sarah Reisetter stated that Iowa would not confirm outbreaks regarding meat packing plants and other businesses unless 10% of their workplace tested positive and even then, reporters would still need to ask.

About Sioux City 

Sioux City, IA is an unique and diverse community. Sioux City is also located where Iowa, Nebraska, and South Dakota meet. Although 71% of the population are White, the remainder is made up of Latinx, Black, Asian, and Indigenous communities. Agricultural factories, meat packing plants, and other businesses are deeply embedded into the city. A majority of their employees are from the Latinx, Black, Indigenous, and immigrant communities. Most of these employees live paycheck-to-paycheck in order to provide for the families and homes. Once the pandemic began, employees feared that they would contract COVID-19. However, they couldn’t afford to miss work due to the point system that most meat packing plants have. If an employee misses a day of work, they gain points. After they receive a high number of points, they are often threatened with a probationary period or even termination. Employees could not afford to miss work because it was their only income to support themselves during the pandemic. Local meat packing plant workers reported poor work conditions in regards to basic PPE, social distancing measures, hygiene practices, and sanitation protocols. Smithfield, Perdue Farms, and Tyson Fresh Meats are just a few of these meat packing plants where employees suffered from COVID-19 outbreaks with temporary shutdowns.

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Another intricate part of this uphill battle with COVID-19 in Sioux City involves the Urban Native population. Some federally recognized Tribal Nations have just now received funding from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, also known as the CARES Act, and are doing what they can to provide PPE and resources for shelter in place situations. However, citizens living off the reservation, or Urban Indians, are not receiving these resources as many lack transportation and finances to travel to their homelands to get the help they desperately need. Thus, leaving them to fall through the cracks amidst the pandemic.

At 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.


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


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

In terms of the COVID-19 pandemic, Sioux City has some hard numbers to face as four homeless Indigneous men in the area have died from the disease. Though the population of Indigenous folx in the Sioux City area fluctuates around 2%, Native American culture is woven into the fabric of the community. And though the presence of Indigenous history, culture and traditions is strong, there is another side to the story. Homelessness numbers are hard to determine, however, as of 2018 the homeless population in Sioux City was 48% - 63% Native American. Furthermore, “In 2017, Siouxland Street Project and Briar Cliff University staff surveyed 100 people on the streets. Forty-seven of them were Native American…” These statistics are related to public intoxication arrests, as reported by Rex Mueller, Chief of the Sioux City Police, who stated in 2018 that “over 50% of intoxication related arrests in the last two years were Native Americans.” (Iowa Public Radio) The reality is that because the Sioux City tri-state area is home to a diverse population of Indigenous folx, from transient to homeless to students to professionals.

With the recent news of the second wave approaching, we are preparing our Indigenous, Latinx, and immigrant communities. The Urban Native Center and Great Plains Action Society have teamed up to establish a Rapid Response Fund for the Indigenous folx in the tri-state area of Siouxland. Tribal members from the Santee Sioux, Ponca, Hochunk, Umonhon, and Ihanktowan Nations surround this area.  We hope to raise awareness and funds to help purchase basic PPE, hygiene necessities, and other resources that our Indigenous communities desperately need. We are the epicenter of meat packing plants and other surrounding hotspots such as Sioux Falls, SD, and Omaha, NE where Indigenous folx travel to and fro. We are hoping to establish a long-term mutual aid project that will also provide other resources to our Native, Latinx, and immigrant communities here in Sioux City and also surrounding areas such as South Sioux City, NE.


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) 

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

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