Posted by Hoonah Indian Association on Thursday, September 5, 2019

Robert Starbard: Fear and Hope - The view From Hoonah, Alaska

My name is Robert Starbard. I am the Tribal Administrator of Hoonah Indian Association, the tribal government in our predominantly Native Village of Hoonah.

We know all too well the deadly consequence of acting too little and too late. Historically, the indigenous people of the United States have been by far the most at-risk race to deadly flu-like diseases.

Centers for Disease Control data shows that America’s indigenous populations died from H1N1 (the 2009 outbreak) at four times the rate of any other race. The mass burial trench from the 1918 flu epidemic remains evident in our cemetery. Our citizens are rightfully fearful and have a right to expect leaders to lead and governments to function efficiently.

We immediately began a search for relevant Coronavirus testing to assist our people, especially our precious elders, in combatting Covid-19. We learned of the promise of a simple and fast field blood test for the antibodies of Covid-19 from Four Directions, a trusted Native American voter education and advocacy organization.

Posted by Hoonah Indian Association on Monday, March 16, 2020
Hoonah Indian Association: Fish Distribution with Southeast Alaska Food Bank & Sea Share

Four Directions Executive Director OJ Semans, (Rosebud Sioux) introduced us to the work of the Coushatta Tribe of Louisiana and their Chairman David Sickey, who has found a testing solution for Indian Country. This Tribal Nation to Tribal Nation approach is appreciated and needed.

The Coushatta Tribe of Louisiana has formed an alliance with Vivera Pharmaceuticals, a medical devices distributor importing tests developed and used in Germany that can detect antibodies specific to Covid-19. Evidence shows aggressive testing and contact tracing is a core reason Germany’s current death toll from Covid-19 is one-half that of the United States. This diagnostic data will help save lives. It will allow people with immunities return to routines and provide assistance to those who are suffering from the extreme symptoms of coronavirus, without fear.

We are emboldened and comforted by recent statements advocating antibody tests of blood by renowned medical experts like Dr. Scott Gottlieb, the former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration; and Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel, an oncologist and bioethicist who was a special medical advisor in the Obama administration. Both Gottlieb and Emanuel have indicated to the media their roadmaps to ending the pandemic prominently includes testing for antibodies

Because of our confidence in the Coushatta Tribe and Vivera, we ordered (and paid for) 1,050 of the testing kits for our Tribal citizens. We are working with the Coushatta Tribe, Vivera, and Four Directions to inform our people and Native Americans and Alaska Natives about this Tribal Nation to Tribal Nation solution. It can work for us - and all American citizens.

These tests can be ordered and distributed under the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) March 16, 2020, guidance. We offered to expand the testing to cover the entire community, native and non-native alike. Local medical professionals and government officials are fearful of recommending use of Vivera’s antibody test until FDA issues an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) which Coushatta and Vivera applied for (PEUA200171) on March 21, 2020.

We, the Hoonah Indian Association, have taken quick action for our people. We urge the FDA do the same and issue the EUA. Help us help ourselves so we may save lives.

Robert Starbard serves as the Tribal Administrator for the Hoonah Indian Association, a federally recognized tribal government headquartered in Hoonah, Alaska. He can be reached at and by phone at (907) 723-7791.

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