BROWNING — Tribal members on the Blackfeet Reservation were stocking up on food and supplies on Friday to prep for a 14-day shutdown that will begin at 11:59 p.m. Sunday.
The Blackfeet Tribal Business Council approved the shutdown at an emergency meeting on Thursday, at the request of public health officials and as coronavirus cases on the reservation reached more than 80. That number had grown to 111 by Friday evening. They also said several cases have been identified in the Blackfeet Care Center. A "few hundred" tribal members have been quarantined, and the Blackfeet Community Hospital will be moving to a Phase 1 closure. Nonessential travel through the reservation has been restricted for several months.
Tribal officials delayed the start of the shutdown until Sunday in order to allow tribal members time to prepare. The Blackfeet Tribal Business Council met again on Friday morning to hash out some of the details of the shutdown. James McNeely, public information officer for the Blackfeet Tribe, said there wasn't consensus yet on what to call the upcoming phase. "The term 'shutdown' can be taken many different ways," he said. "And that's what we're trying to clarify — is it 'shutdown' or is it 'lockdown' — and we should have answers in the next day or two."
McNeely said the goal of the 14-day period is to reduce nonessential gatherings, which he said have contributed in large part to the recent spike in cases. Tribal members will be encouraged to stay home throughout the lockdown. Although they'll be allowed to take essential outings, such as grocery shopping, McNeely said the point of the shutdown is to keep people from coming into contact with others outside their immediate family.
A news release from the Blackfeet COVID-19 Incident Command Center says law enforcement "will be on full force to cite and fine individuals not complying with the shutdown." It isn't clear how noncompliance will be identified, though. Tribal officials told MTN News those instances will be handled on a case-by-case basis. "We're building the plane as it's flying," McNeely said. "We don't know what to expect from day to day."
The council is urging everyone to follow CDC guidelines and Blackfeet Tribe Ordinance 121. For more information, call 406-338-3513. More information about the shutdown will be released in the coming days. We will update you as we learn more.