Tribal nations vaccinate own members, expand to non-Native communities

Published: Mar. 23, 2021 at 10:10 PM CDT
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BARABOO, Wis. (WMTV) - Native or not, up to a thousand people can get vaccinated in a day at the House of Wellness on Ho-Chunk land. But it wasn’t always this way.

Tuesday, the DHS said in its vaccine tracker 17.1 percent of Native Americans in Wisconsin have started their series. Meanwhile, more than one in four people in the state have had at least a dose of a COVID-19 shot.

According to Kiana Beaudin, the Tribe’s Executive Director of Health, the state of Wisconsin gave the Ho-Chunk Nation the “sovereignty” to create its own priority groups. The Tribe began with inoculating elite elders and eminent speakers, Beaudin said.

But Beaudin noticed fewer tribal members getting shots. As of last week, the Ho-Chunk Tribe administered more than 5,300 doses, as fewer than half went to tribal members.

“I do think that there is some vaccine hesitancy related to historical trauma and distrust,” she said. Beaudin cited examples like the unauthorized sterilization of Native women and the first documented case of biological warfare in the 18th century, when the British distributed contaminated blankets used by smallpox patients to Native Americans.

On March 1, Ho-Chunk opened clinics up to surrounding counties. Besides the House of Wellness in Baraboo, other Ho-Chunk vaccine clinics are based in Black River Falls and travel around the state.

“We know that we do not live in a bubble, and we know that our community members interact with other people within the communities that we live in,” Beaudin said.

The Lac Du Flambeau band in Northern Wisconsin also embraces this idea. Robin Carufel, the Health Director of the Peter Christensen Health Center, the tribal health clinic, said many non-Native people work in the community and are related to tribal members.

“We want to make sure we just not take care of one of the parents or one of the grandparents. It would be foolish not to inoculate the other grandparent or the other parent,” he said.

Carufel said vaccine hesitancy hasn’t been an issue among the elders.

“It’s probably because they’re scared... of seeing some of the effects [of coronavirus] and seeing some of the seriousness of what was happening in New York and California, even in other tribal communities like down in Navajo,” he said. “They know that they can trust in our clinic, and make sure that at least we’re looking out for them.”

According to Beaudin, Governor Tony Evers is planning to tour one of the Ho-Chunk clinics on Thursday.

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