Tribal leaders participate in a panel at the National Tribal Health Conference on October 14, 2020.

The panel featured President Jonathan Nez of the Navajo Nation , Chairwoman Gwendena Lee-Gatewood of the White Mountain Apache Tribe and Chief Cyrus Ben of the Mississippi Band Choctaw of Indians. They discussed COVID-19 efforts in their respective tribal communities at the conference, hosted by the National Indian Health Board.

“The presence of COVID-19 virus across Indian Country has brought pain and hardships to many tribes," said Chief Ben. "Our communities are not only facing illnesses, deaths and grief but as leaders we are faced with uncertainties and challenges that none of us have faced before."

"As leaders we must continue to work together, keep open dialogue and fight for the best interest of our people,” said Ben. “Unfortunately, no one place, or people are immune from the virus and we must remain vigilant in stopping the spread on our lands.”

“White Mountain Apache was affected in a lot of ways. Our people are very social. We told people not to gather and it was difficult," Chairwoman Lee-Gatewood said. "We learned not to be complacent and the need to be prepared. We also did a lot of education on showing that wearing a mask doesn’t just help you, it helps others like our elders.”

“We must make sure federal partners consult with the tribes. Our needs are unique, tribes are different and we need to be heard. It was our hope that the administration would develop a systematic approach as opposed to a unique approach," Lee-Gatewood said. "We need to be heard and as consultations are being done, if something hits, we are ready to go."