Indigenous Nations have been some of the communities hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. Tribes have also frequently been at the forefront of efforts to stop its spread.
Despite Indian Nations having long-standing and inherent rights to govern their own lands, resources, and the people in them, members of COVID denial Facebook groups have at times used these forums to disparage tribes and mount efforts to oppose tribal policies to protect their communities.
In a post including a message that city and tribal health departments near Watertown, Wisconsin were implementing a multi-pronged approach to fighting the pandemic, the Administrator of WUSD Mom’s Against Force Masks (259 members) wrote, “I am so incredibly disgusted at this post.”
Noting that the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde’s Spirit Mountain Casino was implementing vaccine mandates, a member of Reopen Oregon Now (1,172 members) wrote, “There is a group trying to organize a protest for next Friday in front of the casino. If they are able to get the protest organized I will let you all know.” The protest was also announced in #RESIGNATE BROWN (6,525 members) and Open Oregon (36,034 members).
In response to a member of OpenAlaska (1,981 members) circulating an article about the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium implementing vaccine mandates, commenters chimed with, “Yeah, of course they did, because I guarantee you the owners of the pharma companies have their execs in their pocketbook”; “Criminals”; and “Are they getting to be as bad as the unions?” One commenter wrote that “The leadership of these Ak (sic) corps and Health organizations are too blinded by greed and virtue signaling that they are doing the EXACT same thing was done to their grandparents and great-grandparents. Absolute lunacy!”
Akin to the claim that COVID-19 policies are like the Holocaust, this latter comment apparently references small-pox blankets given to tribal members in colonial times. This is simply not happening with COVID-19 vaccines, the comment offensively minimizing the genocidal policies practiced by European settlers on this continent.
Noting the vaccine mandate, the Administrator for OpenAlaska, Elizabeth Welsh, announced a protest with a group of employees, declaring, “Join us this Thursday, August 5th…as we help our neighbors peacefully protest these unconstitutional mandates.” Welsh encouraged potential supporters to contact the COVID denial group, Alaskans for Constitutional Rights.
A member of Reopen Minnesota Schools (7,587 members) listed, among other things, potential funding for tuition at “Tribal College or public institutions” for people studying nursing, teaching, and other professions, as a driving force behind the pandemic. She wrote, “Money flowing like water. This is what is driving all ‘pandemic’ measures and restrictions. I would bet my last dollar, that if this funding were to stop the state would go back to normal just like that!” [bold and italics in original]
A post in Recall Bob Ferguson and #Reopen WA (2,694 members) wandered into the arena of calls to monitor tribal voting, with a meme claiming that “Area Voters MUST Be Able to Inspect,” among other things, the “Citizenship of Tribal ID Roster” if tribal members use their tribal identification cards to register to vote.
A member of #reopenWA (7,462 members) posted a photo of a traffic ticket, describing that he received it for “driving on the Makah Indian tribal land for not sheltering in place,” and asking members, “What do you think?” While some commented that the Makah Nation has sovereignty over their lands and can take such measures, many opposed it, including spewing the kind of bigotry that frequently occurs when tribes assert their inherent right to self-government. One response included, “Tell them you’d give them $24 in trinkets and beads to forgive the ticket. Worked for Manhattan!”; “Fight it in court. Unconsitrurional,” (sic); “Oh fu** those natives. We dont (sic) play by their rules”; “Looks like something I wouldn’t pay”; “Wagon burners make their own laws,” and “Different sovereign nation. RIP that shit up and throw it away.”
Other commenters said, “Fake Indian news. Send smoke signal quick,” while another accused the tribe of being “out raping the fishery.” Another countered with the canard long-used to advocate ending tribal sovereignty, writing, “Indians should have no More rights than anyone else.” One just said, “Tell them to fu** off.”
Another commenter offered images of violence toward Native people, writing, “Or pay them in $500 worth of blankets with smallpox.” Similarly, another wrote, “Send them monopoly money. We took their land fair and square. Next time drive a tank and when they pull you over straight drive their horse over while waving the Merican flag.”