The Blackfeet Tribal Business Council held a memorial service on Friday to honor the 27 tribal members that have died from the coronavirus since March.
Thousands of people viewed the vigil online. Several tribal members were present at the memorial service, which was held in the council chambers and led by Reverend Ed Kohler.
The coronavirus has affected Montana’s Native American population more severely than other groups. Although Native Americans only make up about 7% of the state’s population, they represent 23% of reported COVID-19 cases, as of October 16, according to the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services. They also account for 39% of the state’s COVID-19 deaths.
“We look at what happened to our people all those years back, when the small pox came through,” said Vice Chairman Scott Kipp Jr. “There are so many things going on now that parallel what happened back then.”
As the reservation approaches nearly two months of a shutdown, tribal leaders pleaded with young people to follow the rules.
“All these younger generations, and all the people out there, be safe,” said Councilman Virgil Last Star, who had the coronavirus and whose wife is still battling the virus in Kalispell. “Cherish your parents, your grandparents; always wear your mask.”
As of Friday, November 13, there were 31 active cases on the reservation and eight hospitalizations. The shutdown appears to have slowed the number of coronavirus cases on the reservation. Tribal leaders said they’re thankful for people following the rules to protect their most vulnerable.
“There’s nothing more valuable than our lives,” said another councilmember.