Tribal Members Face Fines, Jail Time For Violating Reservation Stay-At-Home Order

Apr 17, 2020

Credit Savannah Maher

Members of the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho tribes now face fines of up to $150 and even jail time for violating a stay-at-home order on the Wind River Reservation.

The order, issued by the Wind River Inter-Tribal Council on April 1, is intended to slow the spread of COVID-19 on the reservation, where there are currently 18 confirmed cases. It prohibits tribal members from leaving their homes except to seek medical care or shop for groceries and other necessary supplies. Workers in essential fields, including healthcare, are exempt.

"This approach is a little stricter than the state of Wyoming's," said Eastern Shoshone Business Councilman John St. Clair. "However, just from our observations, when we issued the stay-at-home order, there wasn't compliance."

St. Clair said some community members were continuing to visit one another's homes and gather in large groups. But a separate order signed by Wind River Tribal Court Judge Janet Millard on April 10 gave reservation police the ability to enforce the stay-at-home order.

"Violation of [the stay-at-home-order] is a violation of a lawful order of the Court," Millard wrote. "Such a violation is punishable as contempt of Court [...] by a fine of $150 and/or a jail sentence for 30 days."

St. Clair said there's been less movement and activity on the reservation following the court order.

Dr. Paul Ebbert, chief medical officer of Wind River Family and Community Healthcare, said he hopes the enforcement guidelines help flatten the curve on Wind River.

"Almost several times a week, we find a case in somebody who is asymptomatic and has been extensively around the reservation. And every time that happens, we're concerned we're going to have another big outbreak of cases," Ebbert said.

Wind River Family and Community Healthcare, which is operated by the Northern Arapaho Tribe, is offering drive-through testing to any tribal member who wants it, regardless of symptoms.

In a statement this week, Dr. Ebbert asked tribal members not to relax precautions.

"I know this is hard, and we are all getting tired. But, the way to keep the number of cases down and the number of deaths down is for people to self-isolate, social distance, wear masks and to wash their hands frequently," Ebbert wrote. "Please do not put yourself, your family or our elders at risk and follow the rules that the Tribe has set out."

Have a question about this story? Contact the reporter, Savannah Maher, at smaher4@uwyo.edu.