MISSION — Events were canceled and vaccine clinics were scheduled this week after a sharp uptick in COVID-19 cases was reported among school children on the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation.
Hours after the CTUIR reported on Wednesday, May 12, that 14 people had tested positive for COVID-19 on the reservation over the past two weeks, with 12 cases coming from kids, tribal health officials announced that youths 12 to 18 could be vaccinated at Yellowhawk Tribal Health Center on Saturday, May 15.
The clinic was announced after the federal government authorized the use of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine among children ages 12 to 15 earlier on May 12.
“The virus is spreading among our youth and we need to respond immediately,” said Lisa Guzman, Yellowhawk Tribal Health Center chief executive officer. “We want our students to be able to go to graduation, prom and continue with sports. Now that 12- to 15-year-olds are eligible we want to deliver the vaccine to them as soon as possible.”
A day after the case spike was announced, Wildhorse Resort & Casino announced that the annual Wildhorse Pow Wow would be canceled for the second year in a row due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The press release also said that Pow Wow Comedy, an event that features a Native American comedian each year, would be canceled.
The press release said there were multiple reasons why the three-day event, which draws between 5,000 to 7,000 people to the area each year, was canceled, after originally being scheduled for July 2-4.
The concerns included “occupancy restrictions, cleaning and maintenance of outdoor facilities, spacing of vendors and spectators, current rates of COVID diagnoses in Umatilla County and on the reservation, and most importantly, with contestants traveling from across the U.S. and Canada, risk of viral spread to the local community.”
“It takes a lot of people to run this three-day event and right now we have to do our part to keep the community safe and that means holding off until 2022,” said Wildhorse Events Manager Juliana Luke.
Although Wildhorse could theoretically hold a safe pow wow, Luke added, it would require “a lot of effort” and there are no guarantees it would be perfectly safe.
Native American pow wows have been essential traditions for tribes across North America for thousands of years. They are times where tribes “gather to celebrate cultural tradition, spirituality and competition,” often with music and dancing, the press release said.
The Wildhorse Pow Wow celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2019, when the event was last held. Each year, the event brings together dancers and drummers from across the nation to compete for prizes upward of $90,000.
“My favorite thing about the Wildhorse Pow Wow is how it brings together families and friends from across the West,” Luke said. “Every year we look out for one another and this year we will do it from afar.”
Case spike on the UIR
The case spike, reportedly stemming from school buses and classrooms, came after six straight weeks where not a single case was reported among tribal members and patients eligible for care at Yellowhawk Tribal Health Center, officials said.
Each of the 12 children reportedly experienced symptoms of the virus, tribal officials reported, and one adult was hospitalized in the outbreak.
The new cases brought total active COVID-19 cases on the reservation to 17, making it one of the sharpest upticks reported on the reservation since 19 cases were reported in a week in December 2020, according to data on the CTUIR website.
The uptick prompted tribal officials to cancel several events last week, including a community school prom at Nixyaawii and the Nixyaawii Celebration Committee’s Annual Root Feast Pow Wow.
Yellowhawk officials attempting to trace the outbreak have been met with reluctance from residents, officials said.
Since the pandemic began, tribal health officials have reported 271 COVID-19 cases, 13 hospitalizations and one death, according to data from tribal health officials.