OPINION. Understandably, Americans are ready to get on with their lives. Since the first Covid-19 death was announced in the United States 19 months ago, the nation, along with tribal nations, have wanted to get back to their routines of their normal lives by returning to restaurants, shopping, casinos, and going back to school.

Last weekend, I noticed that MSNBC reported 629,000 deaths in the United States since the beginning of the pandemic. I thought, where have I been? I remember a few months ago, the media reported deaths surpassing the threshold of half-million Americans. This past week, America met another unfortunate milestone: 1 out 500 Americans have died from Covid-19.

On Saturday evening, Johns Hopkins University and Medicine’s Coronavirus Resource Center listed the deaths by Covid-19 of Americans as 672,635. As of September 15, 2021, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics reported 7,305 American Indians and Alaska Natives (AI/AN) have died from Covid-19. Given the size of the AI/AN population in relation to the overall U.S. population, Indian Country has the highest death rate of all racial and ethnic groups, according to the CDC.

With the overall population of Indian Country small in comparison to the general population, each death seems to reverberate within our tribal communities.

Such was the case when Roxie Schescke (Lakota), 59, passed away last Sunday, Sept. 12, from Covid-19. I remember interviewing her for an American Indian business magazine cover story a few years ago. Along with her husband, Roxie started Indian Eyes LLC, a construction company, in 2005. Indian Eyes prospered, growing into a $24 million enterprise that did business across the United States and around the globe. In 2012, the National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development awarded her the National Native Woman Business Owner of the Year. She was appointed to a board for the White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs during the Obama administration.

Even with such impressive credentials, her obituary began with the most important aspects of her life: “She was a caring wife, mother, grandmother, great grandmother, sister and friend to many.”

On Tuesday, Sept. 14, former White Earth Chairman Irvin “Doyle” Turner died unexpectedly at home from complications of Covid-19. Turner was 77. The White Earth Reservation Business Committee Tribal Offices will be closed on Monday, Sept. 20, so the tribal community can mourn his death.

The mention of these two deaths are a small portion of those who have passed and continue to die of Covid-19 in Indian Country. They represent the harsh reality that  Covid-19 continues to linger across the United States and Indian Country.

The good news is that some tribal officials are acting prudently and attempting to do the right thing — sometimes over the resistance of members — to slow down the growth of Covid-19 on reservations and in tribal communities.

Native News Online reported on Saturday the Oglala Sioux Tribe issued a quarantine order for all K-12 schools on the reservation due to rising numbers of Covid-19 cases. 

The quarantine order was sent out to parents and guardians earlier this week by Oglala Sioux Tribe Vice President Alicia Mousseau, stating a 10-day quarantine for all students and non-essential staff would go into effect until Sept. 29 and a five-day quarantine for essential staff, excluding cooking and cleaning staff and administrators, until Sept. 22.

On a daily basis, the Navajo Nation reports on the new Covid-19 cases and recent deaths on the country’s largest Indian reservation. Leadership is still persistent in asking Navajo citizens to wear masks, get vaccinated and practice social distancing.

The report on Saturday reported 63 new Covid-19 cases and one more Covid-related death, the 1,429th death on the Navajo Nation since the beginning of the pandemic.

"Personal responsibility is key to reducing the spread of Covid-19,” Navajo Nation Vice President Myron Lizer said on Saturday evening. “Our health care experts have provided us with the guidance and knowledge to protect ourselves and others from the virus, so please remain diligent and think of others. Be safe and keep praying for our frontline workers and all of our people." 

While we all want to get back to “normal,” Vice President Lizer is correct, each of us needs to take personal responsibility when it comes to Covid-19.

Sadly, normal will never come back to those who lost loved ones from Covid-19. 

We must remain committed to do our parts. We must think of our family, friends and tribal communities before we get back to normal.

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Levi Rickert
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Levi Rickert (Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation) is the founder, publisher and editor of Native News Online. He can be reached at [email protected]