Success Stories

Behind The Scenes: COVID-19 Emergency Delivery

Photo of temperature on a thermometer Our PIC started the day by taking her temperature.

There have been endless protective measures in communities throughout the United States and globally to slow the spread of Coronavirus since the beginning of 2020. For tribal nations, they find themselves tasked with unique circumstances of health and economic disparities in rural and geographically isolated areas that make access to important resources every day a hardship. But during a pandemic, these disparities are even more taxed. Tribal leadership exerting their sovereignty is critical to decrease this deadly and opportunistic virus, especially when state actions does not always align with how the tribe can best protect its citizens.

Northern Plains Reservation Aid (NPRA) serves the Pine Ridge Reservation, working with many program partners throughout the year. Regular shipments of food, water and supplies have always made their way to partners working in their communities and for the residents. During the COVID-19 pandemic, NPRA is working to ensure we are following the protocols and protections of the tribe, while getting necessary items into communities where many lack businesses where these items can be purchased.

On April 9th, NPRA’s distribution center received a Disaster request from Maretta, a Program Partner with Pine Ridge Emergency Management services. She requested items so they could deliver to Elders living far off the main roads.

Making this delivery different than all other deliveries was the tribe’s acknowledgement of their first confirmed COVID-19 case and their subsequent action of a Tribal Ordinance for a Bordering Monitoring Plan — which resulted in established checkpoints at main reservation entries.

Photo of travel restriction signage The first positive case on the rez results in established checkpoints at main reservation entries.

The delivery was scheduled for April 14th. NPRA’s Program Information Coordinator (PIC) was assigned to drive the crew cab diesel truck that was loaded with one pallet of supplies and travel to the Pine Ridge Emergency Management offices about 80 miles away. This was the PICs journal for their unprecedented travel day.

6:39 AM Woke up, got ready and took temperature indicating 96.9 Fahrenheit. Gathered up PPEs and supplies for disinfecting surfaces and hands during trip. My pre-trip list has expanded from water, hot coffee and phone charging cord to now include gloves (not the fuzzy warm winter ones, but the latex ones), face masks, Clorox wipes, Clorox spray, hand sanitizer, and lotion. Draped my cedar necklace gifted to me by an Elder around my neck remembering her words to me: “it’s medicine — to protect you.”

7:05 AM Drove to warehouse, passing a digital sign displaying one message: “Disinfect 2 Protect COVID.SD.GOV” I felt prepared for the days’ travel.

7:10 AM Entered the warehouse, stopped and washed my hands and walked halfway to find the warehouse men.

Photo of Jess with delivered supplies Jess greeted our PIC, “we are using this as a training exercise,” she said.

7:15 AM Met the forklift at “Door 6” where the truck topper was open, awaiting the half ton of items to be carefully loaded with the weight of the pallet causing the truck to sink like taking a deep breath at the doctor office. Another Clorox wipe was used to open the doors and clean the interior surfaces of the vehicle. Buckled up and headed east for the 80 miles to Pine Ridge.

8:08 AM 15 miles south of Rapid City, the truck turned headed southeast and was greeted with another digital sign that flashed two messages: COVID-19 CHECK PT 35MI AHD CONSIDER ALTERNATE ROUTE. Continued this route knowing full well that I would need to stop at the checkpoint to get to my designation within the reservation.

8:34 AM After crossing the Cheyenne River, passed the Red Shirt school, traveled up the hill to where the checkpoint was located. A “masked” monitor approached the passenger door looking at the logo on the door. Greeting him with a “Good Morning,” let him know that I am delivering a requested shipment to Pine Ridge Emergency Management. He nodded with an acknowledgement that he’d been notified and away I went!

9:14 AM Passing the community of Oglala, home of a Head Start preschool program and Isna Wica (Lone Man) School there were only a few cars in the schools’ parking lot. Assumed the cars belonged to those staff that were lovingly preparing nutritious lunches for the student body that is now learning remotely.

Photo of a Bobcat unloading a pallet of suppliesA Bobcat grabbed the pallet and carefully negotiated it out of the truck bed and placed in an area designated for “disinfection.”

9:20 AM Headed SE on Highway 18 towards Pine Ridge, the lack of movement — cars, walkers, and even rez dogs was discernible. The traffic picked up a little more entering the main community of Pine Ridge, but nothing like any of the previous trips taken in the 11 years as PIC.

9:40 AM Turned off the main road using the delivery instructions of “the old jail” where another “masked” man saw the truck and said, “Jess is waiting for you in the yard.” Entered the fenced area of the old jail, backed in and was met by another “bobcat” that grabbed the pallet and carefully negotiated it out of the truck bed and placed in an area designated for “disinfection.”

9:44 AM Jess greeted me, “we are using this as a training exercise,” she said. Pallet was placed in the middle of the yard and she rallied the masked and gloved team and quickly began her real time training. She gave instructions to ensure no cross-contamination of the disinfecting and clean areas. Once in the cleaned area, her staff took the items into the facility to be further sorted for the deliveries.

10:00 AM Said my goodbyes and told Jess to keep in touch with the warehouse if they had any additional needs. Drove to the four way — one of the few stoplights in town and pulled into the only full grocery store on the reservation and picked up supplies for an Elder living in the Red Shirt community. With three generations living her home (with a newborn great grandchild), always try to check on her when I have time. Went through the aisles, practicing social distancing and waiting as other customers selected items from the shelves, and noticed signage throughout the store explaining why prices had to be higher than normal. Always note price increases whenever I travel to tribal areas, but this was the first time with signs detailing why prices were higher than normal. After paying for the groceries, washed my hands using a temporary cleaning station situated by the exit doors and was thankful for this new modification.

Photo of a member of Jess's team with a Thank You note "I was able to witness a community working together to combat an invisible enemy."

11:43 AM About an hour later, stopped at one of my favorite views — a pull-out before passing through the Oglala Sioux Tribe (OST) checkpoint again. It dawned on me looking over the Badlands with the snow tucked inside deep crevices that this is one place that COVID-19 doesn’t exist. Just the land of many generations of families I have come to know and respect.

11:54 AM Stopped at the checkpoint and two of the monitors approached the vehicle. I asked if I could stop at a house just past the checkpoint to drop off my supplies for an Elder I knew. I assured them that I would not be going into the home, but just take the items out (after they had been wiped down with Clorox wipes) and taken into the house by a family member. They didn’t have any issue with this request and asked if I would be returning anytime that week with another load. They thanked me for providing supplies to the emergency services to help their residents and I was sent on my way. I stopped at Josephine’s to drop off the supplies I purchased, and she waved at me from the home and said, “I’ll call you later — thank you so much!”

12:39 PM Despite how lonely the trip was, witnessed a community working together to combat an invisible enemy. All the cars and hitch hikers not seen meant that people were doing their part to stay in place. The emergency management team used our delivery two-fold: first for training their team to decontaminate every item they received, and second for organizing the items to be home delivered to Elders — this is likely their new norm for any donations have been coming into their tribal lands. Even the small-town grocer made modifications to their cashier’s space, which is now protected with plastic shields, face masks, gloves and a hand-washing station at the front entrance. And finally, the Tribal checkpoints established to monitor the arrivals and departures eliminate any non-essential traffic to safeguard their communities.

It was a good day. Even though my iPhone doesn’t recognize my face (with a mask on) — I was able to see the smiles through the face masks of people that are protecting their community and thankful for the help NPRA brought to them.

Photo of our PIC with her mask on Our PIC arrived at our warehouse and secured her face mask.

Dates regarding the Oglala Sioux Tribe:

Wednesday - April 1, 2020 NPRA truck delivered 200 boxes to Wanblee on Oglala Nation. Community Action Team and volunteers delivered to Elders and households in need using CDC protocols on social distancing and use of PPE’s.

Tuesday - April 7, 2020

  • Confirmed case of COVID-19 on tribal lands. Individual was not an OST tribal member, but a staff member of Red Cloud school in Porcupine, SD.
  • Larry Romero, a collaborator of NPRA’s Northern Plains Emergency Preparedness team, conducted NPRA on April 7th…” Guess where I am? Oglala Checkpoint on Highways 44 and 73!”. Larry sent us a photo of the checkpoint. It was in the same location where a lone electronic sign was a week prior when NPRA delivered 200 emergency boxes to the Wanblee community.

Thursday - April 9, 2020 NPRA received a request for assistance from Maretta Champagne under our Disaster services.

Saturday - April 11, 2020 Oglala Sioux Tribal Council voted in favor of 14-day lockdown; started that evening.

Tuesday - April 14, 2020 NPRA delivered a pallet of emergency items to the Emergency Management department.

Thursday - April 16, 2020 OST COVID-19 Task Force issued statement on Self Quarantine: “There shall be no travel to or from the Pine Ridge Reservation for Non-Essential Purpose.”