BOIS FORTE RESERVATION - The Bois Forte Band of Chippewa on Wednesday afternoon postponed its tribal elections and asked members to stay home in efforts to curb the spread of coronavirus on the reservation in northeastern Minnesota.
Appearing on a live-streamed Facebook video, Bois Forte Chairwoman Cathy Chavers addressed 3,500 enrolled members when saying that the tribal elections will no longer take place on March 31. Chavers, who is up for reelection, said the primary election has been scheduled for June 9 and the general election for Aug. 18.
Chavers also said that the Bois Forte Tribal Council adopted a “Stay Home, Stay Safe” order effective 4:30 p.m. Wednesday.
“What this means is we would like people to stay home as much as possible,” Chavers said, adding that the order allows for the 700 enrolled members living on the 240-square-mile reservation to leave their homes to go to the pharmacy or work, or care for a vulnerable adult or have to shop for “basic necessities off the reservation.”
The Bois Forte Band’s order comes about an hour after Gov. Tim Walz issued a “stay at home” order calling for 5.6 million Minnesotans to stay at home from 11:59 p.m. Friday to April 10. The governor said the state will use the two weeks to build out hospital capacity, increase access to ventilators, increase testing, address personal protective equipment shortages, plan for how to protect vulnerable populations and assess new data to improve the mitigation strategy. Residents are allowed to leave their homes for outdoor exercise, grocery stores and medical needs, for example, while practicing social distancing. Under the order, at least 80 percent of jobs in the state are considered essential.
The Bois Forte Reservation is set between the U.S.-Canada border and cities on the Iron Range. Cities on the reservation are located in St. Louis County, which is the largest county by total area in Minnesota. The county includes Tower, Hibbing and Duluth, running from north to south.
The Bois Forte Band is situated in a remote and sparsely populated landscape, but officials have been steadfast in taking precautionary actions. It was March 13 when Walz to the south declared a state of peacetime emergency in Minnesota and then two days later when the Ontario Ministry of Health to the north reported that a resident of Fort Frances tested positive for COVID-19. Fort Frances borders International Falls in Koochiching County, about 75 miles north of the Bois Forte Tribal Government Building in Orr.
Two days after, on March 17, the band adopted a resolution declaring its state of emergency and closed down two wellness centers, an elementary school in Nett Lake. The next day, after St. Louis County announced an emergency declaration, the band shut down the Fortune Bay Resort Casino, their largest business employing about 500 Native and non-Native staff. The Bois Forte joined a number of tribal nations in shutting down the casino including Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe with a casino in Hinckley, the Fond du Lac Band of Ojibwe in Carlton and Duluth and both the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community and the Prairie Island Indian Community near Minneapolis.
This past Monday, the Bois Forte Band announced the closure of its tribal court until the end of April and imposed a travel ban to restrict tribal government employees from driving the 125 miles south to Duluth. “If you go to Duluth after 11 o’clock today you will be required to self-quarantine for two weeks,” Chavers said in a recorded update.
The Minnesota Health Department confirmed 287 cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday morning, with one death from last week. Twenty-six people remained in the hospital with the coronavirus, while 12 were in intensive care. St. Louis County announced its third case of COVID-19. The latest case in the county is linked to a woman in her late 30s, who is recovering from home from a travel-related infection. County officials have refused to provide details on the exact location of the people infected with the coronavirus, citing privacy issues.
"Anyone coming into our county from somewhere else risks bringing the virus with them,” said Commissioner Mike Jugovich of Chisholm. “That includes people coming to spend time at their cabin or favorite rental getaway spot, and even snowbirds coming home. Please pause and ask if this is really the best time to travel. We all need to do our part to stop the spread of this virus."
The Bois Forte Band is now “keeping all staff on” and “some are working from home in order to alleviate the social distancing,” Chavers said on Wednesday afternoon. The band is also “repurposing” other staff to work where needed. She reminded members that all government buildings remain closed to the public, with the exception of two convenient stores and medical and dental clinics in Nett Lake and Vermilion. She asked that people call ahead of time if they need to talk to staff at the buildings.
In all instances, the band has marked off six feet diameter squares highlighting the safe distance for people to stand in the presence of others as recommended by federal guidelines.
The Bois Forte Band created its own COVID-19 informational page on its website at www.boisforte.com. The clinics can be reached at 218-757-3650 in Nett Lake or 218-753-2182 in Vermilion. Previously Chavers said the band’s incident command team met and established an email for any questions on the coronavirus: email@example.com. “We all want you to stay safe,” she said. “And please do your social distancing and wiping with hand sanitizer and cleaning.”