The Bois Forte Band successfully finished administering the first round of COVID-19 vaccinations to tribal members off the reservation.

The band from northeastern Minnesota had used CARES Act money to convert an ambulance into a mobile vaccine unit to send south to Bois Forte urban offices in Duluth and Minneapolis. The band distributed about 190 doses of the vaccine this month to pre-registered band members, descendants and household members.

“It went very well and I’m very proud of our staff that did this unit and vaccinations,” Tribal Chairwoman Cathy Chavers said in her weekly COVID-19 video update. “It was a long two days, but it was very well worth it.”

Chavers continued, “We take it for granted up in our area, but when you live in urban areas and when you have access to that many people you get kind of scared and I can understand their sincerity when getting those vaccinations.”

The chairwoman noted the next scheduled round to be held April 15 in Duluth and Minneapolis.

Bois Forte District Representatives Shane Drift and Peter Boney joined tribal medical staff on the trips to the urban offices. They were met by the U.S. Sen. Tina Smith, whom Chavers described as being “very impressed and very thankful for us reaching out to our urban population because not many tribes have that opportunity.”

On the reservation to the north, Chavers reported zero active COVID-19 cases or people in quarantine or isolation. Despite the good news, she warned about the “rising cases” in International Falls and Ely areas surrounding the reservation.

These cities have been reporting clusters of coronavirus cases especially among youth. Last week, an Ely elementary and high school had transitioned to distance learning to prevent the spread of the virus.

“Mask up, social distance, stay 6 feet apart and wash your hands because they’re still active cases out there surrounding our communities that we have to be careful about,” Chavers told her Bois Forte audience.

In other news, Chavers noted the partial reopening of the Bois Forte Tribal Government Building in Nett Lake to allow one person at a time. “We’re trying to get back to a little normalcy,” she said. “By baby steps, we’re doing it”

• She dispelled “false rumors” that COVID-19 vaccines are not safe. Her public support for vaccines came one day before the state of Minnesota was set to expand vaccine eligibility to anyone over age 16.

• She thanked Gov. Tim Walz and Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan for “thinking of tribes during the pandemic” in regards to her learning the state will provide another $1 million to tribes statewide.

• The chairwoman noted the fact that the American Rescue Plan, signed into law by President Joe Biden earlier this month, will provide $1.75 billion in American Indian and Alaska Native government programs administered under the Department of the Interior’s Assistant Secretary. Of the funding, the plan authorizes $900 million in funding for the Interior and the Bureau of Indian Affairs to support COVID-19 response, including $772.5 million for tribal government services, public safety and justice, social services, child welfare, etc. In addition, $880 million will go to the Bureau of Indian Education for tribal schools and colleges.

She highlighted the Interior deciding to consult with tribal leaders to talk about how to spend the federal money. “This is the first time ever that the tribes have been asked to do consultation prior to funding being sent out where we have input on the formula that’s going to be used,” she said.

She also described listening to newly appointed Secretary of Interior Deb Haaland give an introduction during a recent call with the band. “It was just awesome to hear someone Native actually speaking and understanding where we’re coming from and having that opportunity,” she said. “It was a very unique event for us and the first time ever.”

The Bois Forte plan to submit a written comment on the matter to the BIA by March 31.

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