Julian Bear Runner serves as president of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, whose Pine Ridge Reservation is the largest Indian reservation in South Dakota and one of the largest in the United States. Photo by Kevin Abourezk

'We are staying on top of it': Oglala Sioux Tribe declares coronavirus emergency

The Oglala Sioux Tribe declared a state of emergency Tuesday following news earlier in the day that five South Dakota residents had tested positive for coronavirus, including a man in his 60s from a county that borders the Pine Ridge Reservation.

President Julian Bear Runner said he decided to issue the emergency declaration after learning from Indian Health Service officials that the Pine Ridge Hospital on the reservation doesn’t have test kits necessary to screen for the virus.

“Who knows how long we will be walking with this disease and not be able to properly diagnose that and treat those that have been affected?” he said in a public address Tuesday night.

Presidential address to the Oglala Oyate regarding COVID-19

Posted by Julian Bear Runner on Tuesday, March 10, 2020

He said the federal government plans to send coronavirus kits first to state health departments and then to individual county health departments. In his emergency declaration, he called on the federal government to live up to its treaty obligations and trust responsibilities and send test kits directly to the Oglala Sioux Tribe.

He also requested federal funds to pay for education and prevention of coronavirus, formally known as COVID-19, as well as medical supplies to fight the virus.

On Tuesday, South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem said five people had tested positive for coronavirus in the state, including a man from Pennington County, just north of the Pine Ridge Reservation, who died.

“The cases are travel related,” she said in a news release. “Without panicking, I encourage all South Dakotans to take this seriously – now is the time to prepare and to stay informed.”

Our team has been preparing for weeks, and I am confident we have the right people in place to address this fluid situation. Without panicking, I encourage all South Dakotans to take this seriously – now is the time to prepare and to stay informed.

Posted by Governor Kristi Noem on Tuesday, March 10, 2020
Governor Kristi Noem: 'Our team has been preparing for weeks, & I’m confident we have the right people in place to address the #COVID-19 situation in our state'

In his emergency declaration, Bear Runner called on schools and tribal departments to begin developing protocols to prevent the spread of the virus. And he demanded that reservation businesses refrain from price gouging and that all products and donations shipped to the reservation be quarantined or sanitized before being made available to the public.

Bear Runner suspended official travel for elected tribal leaders and employees in order to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

On Tuesday, he also announced the establishment of an emergency management team that would oversee efforts to prevent and fight the coronavirus.

“We’re doing everything within our power to ensure we have everything we need,” he said.

He said he is seeking to change tribal policies in order to allow him to grant administrative leave to individual employees. He said he hopes to be able to allow employees with underlying health conditions who may be more vulnerable to the virus, as well as single parents, the option of staying home and still get paid should the coronavirus begin spreading widely through the reservation.

Bear Runner said he prayed for the reservation’s safety during a sweatlodge ceremony Monday night and he asked reservation residents to ensure the safety of elders and spiritual leaders.

“Protect your spiritual leaders because they are going to be our first line of defense,” he said.

He urged tribal citizens and all reservation residents to practice thorough hygiene and he sought to reassure any nervous residents.

“I don’t want the people to panic,” he said. “I don’t want them to overreact.”

“We are staying on top of it.”

OST Presidential declaration: State of Emergency over the COVID-19 threat to the Oglala Nation

Posted by Oglala Sioux Tribe - OST on Tuesday, March 10, 2020

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