Tribal Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic

By Sarah Pogany ’20

The COVID-19 coronavirus, a highly transmittable disease that has spread to various parts of the globe including the U.S., is a real threat to Tribal communities. Indigenous communities are a vulnerable population, due to economic and food insecurity, as well as the geographic locations of their communities. Some Tribes are located in areas that do not have nearby hospitals, thereby requiring airline transport to receive healthcare.

Indigenous elders are a high risk subset of Tribal communities, not only because of their age, but because of the roles they hold in Indigenous societies and families. Many elders live in the homes of their families, unable to isolate themselves from their family members. In intergenerational homes there is an increased risk of rapid viral transmission due to multiple family members in a confined space.

However, some Tribal nations have taken preventative steps to get ahead of this virus so as to protect their communities. For instance, Lummi nation, a Pacific northwest Tribe, built a makeshift hospital in their community to prepare for the virus. Since the outbreak began in China in late 2019, Tribal leaders have encouraged medical staff to develop emergency plans, reorganize services and gather medical supplies.

Before the Trump administration declared national emergency on March 13th, the Lummi Tribe was already practicing social distancing, drive-through testing, telemedicine clinics, and had created a home delivery service for their elders. One million dollars was approved to prepare for the pandemic, which included funding for building the 20 bed hospital. The purpose of the hospital is to not only treat those with COVID-19, but to lessen the burden on nearby hospitals by taking in those who have less critical cases.

In the northeast, the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan Tribal Nations both agreed to close the Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun casinos as a preventative effort to slow the outbreak. Both nations made an agreement with the government to shut down. Since their openings in 1992 and 1996, Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun have remained open until this point. 

Chairman of the Mohegan Tribe, James Gessner, had the following to say about the decision: “Connecticut and our respective tribes have worked collaboratively for decades and this moment in our history is no different. This is a decision that was made to ensure all of our guests, team members, and our partners across Connecticut, especially in our local communities, remain safe. We are successful if the state is successful, and that’s true in all facets, like public health.”

While Indigenous people may be vulnerable to this disease, precautions have been taken to help prevent further spreading. Not only are Tribes such as the Lummi, Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan nations looking out for the people of their community, but also for the greater good of all.

For more information from New England Tribal health care offices, please visit the following sites:

Mashantucket (Western) Pequot


Mashpee Wampanoag

Wampanoag of Gay Head (Aquinnah)

Narragansett Indian Tribe

Penobscot Nation





Lakhani, Nina. “Native American Tribe Takes Trailblazing Steps to Fight Covid-19 Outbreak.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 18 Mar. 2020,

Lessard R. “Mashantucket Pequot, Mohegan Tribal Nations, and Lamont administration agree to close due to COVID-19 prevention efforts.” Published March 16, 2020. Accessed March 29, 2020.

NBC Connecticut. “Foxwoods, Mohegan Sun to Close to Help Curb the Spread of Coronavirus. NBC Connecticut.” Published March 16, 2020. Accessed March 29, 2020.

Smith-Morris, Carolyn. “CoronaVirus, Indigenous Peoples, and Global Advocacy.” Cultural Survival, 17 Mar. 2020,