Four members of the Northern Arapaho Tribe who had tested positive for COVID-19 died from complications of the illness on Monday. Chairman Lee Spoonhunter of the Northern Arapaho Business Council shared the news with the tribal community during a live web address on Tuesday morning.
"These tribal members were our family members who were dearly loved. But because of the restrictions put in place, we cannot mourn together as a family or a tribe, or give our people the traditional Arapaho protocol to help our people heal," Spoonhunter said.
Two of the four tribal members who died were elders, and three were members of the same immediate family.
The news triples the number of confirmed COVID-19-related deaths in Wyoming, though the state has not yet increased its official total from two to six.
The Wind River Reservation, which has been under a strict stay-at-home order since the start of April, has at least 24 of Fremont County's 51 confirmed cases of COVID-19. A clinic operated by the Northern Arapaho Tribe is also the only facility in the county conducting mass-testing of those with and without symptoms.
After offering prayers and condolences to the loved-ones of those who died, Spoonhunter urged tribal members to obey the stay-at-home order.
"As tribal leaders, we continue to put extraordinary levels of trust and responsibility on all of you, our tribal citizens, to safeguard our life movement to the fourth ridge," Spoonhunter said.
He specifically called on the reservation's young people not to leave their homes except to seek medical treatment, groceries and essential supplies.
"Many of you continue to disregard the safety of our elders by not adhering to these measures and continue to put your elders — your parents and your grandparents — at risk," Spoonhunter said. "Your grandparents love you unconditionally and depend on the love you have for them to conduct yourself and behave in a proper way."
After an April 10 judgement from the Wind River Tribal Court, tribal members face fines of up to $150 and even jail time for violating the stay-at-home order.
Tribal leaders and medical professionals on Wind River have said that the community is at particularly high-risk during the pandemic. Inadequate funding of the federal Indian Health Service has led to a high rate of chronic illnesses on the reservation. A decades-long housing shortage has also resulted in severe overcrowding in tribal homes.
Spoonhunter said he prays the reservation's prevention efforts, which have been more aggressive than Fremont County's or the state of Wyoming's, will prevent more infections and possible COVID-19-related deaths among tribal members.
"We will continue to work tirelessly with [Eastern Shoshone Business Council] to help protect the Wind River Reservation, to make sure that we together as both tribes are working for the safety of all tribal members," Spoonhunter said. "My heart, condolences and prayers go out to the family members who lost their loved ones yesterday and last night."
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