Minnesota’s Governor Tim Walz’s stay-at-home order, enacted to protect the health of the state’s population during the COVID-19 pandemic, is currently set to be lifted on May 18th.
However, on April 17th, Governor Walz made an announcement that the public health directive would be relaxed for golfing, fishing, and boating, allowing these industries to open a month before the stay-at-home order is set to end.
The reopening of these activities will increase urban-to-rural travel and endanger vulnerable communities with limited resources — in particular, jeopardizing the health and safety of Minnesota’s Indigenous communities.
PAN and a number of our nonprofit and tribal partner organizations laid this exact issue out to Governor Walz in a letter that urges for the protection of rural and Native communities from the high risk of COVID-19 exposure that comes with increased recreational tourism.
Over the last few months, we’ve seen how this virus spreads throughout communities. In Minnesota, several rural counties have much higher rates of infection per capita than hotspots in urban centers. Nobles County in the southwestern region of the state — home to the JBS food processing plant — has per-capita infection rates rivaling New York City’s. As Native reservations and other rural areas in Minnesota host many of the state’s lakes and are destinations for fishing and boating, this relaxation of the stay-at-home order will be putting the populations that live there directly at risk.
Out-of-town cabin owners and day-trippers who take advantage of the lifted restrictions on boating and fishing would be traveling between counties, depleting resources from local supplies and potentially endangering Minnesota families.
Protecting communities equally
On top of that, Native Americans have some of the highest rates of pre-existing illnesses in the country, and many communities across Indian Country lack access to clean water, which we know is essential to handwashing and sanitation measures to prevent the spread of the virus.
Healthcare is another concern for rural and tribal communities, and with limited ICU capacity, an outbreak would be devastating.
Vera Allen, a Minnesota farmer who was born and raised on the Navajo reservation, expressed her fear and frustration at Governor Walz’s decision. After New York and New Jersey, the Navajo Nation has the highest COVID-19 infection rate in the U.S.
“With beauty before me, I walk. With beauty behind me, I walk. With beauty below me, I walk. This is the Navajo way, my people have instilled this conscience in our children for a thousand years. We have an opportunity to be good relatives and save people who are 2% of the world’s population from this threat of extinction, let us act with beauty all around us and make this small sacrifice so that Minnesota Natives won’t suffer what is happening on the Navajo Nation.”
In Minnesota and throughout the rest of the country, our rural and tribal communities must remain just as protected from the COVID-19 virus as people in urban centers. The risks of spreading the virus with partial relaxations of stay-at-home orders like this one are much too high, and the most vulnerable populations would be paying the price.