A group of elders led a walk and procession of cars through the center of Eagle Butte on Thursday, March 11. The walk was in support of the Tribal Health and Safety Checkpoints, which are scheduled to come down over the next two weeks.
Maggie Iron Hawk, one of the organizers, says the main reason she is in favor of keeping the checkpoints up is to protect the children who are not yet vaccinated. “Those children are our future generations. We can be still here, we can get vaccinated as adults,” she said, but there is not yet a vaccine for children.
She is concerned about how long it will take until children can be vaccinated, and the impact of potential COVID-19 infection on children with underlying health issues. “What kind of scares me is the fact that we have children, not only elders, with underlying issues…issues with their lungs or being overweight.”
She said the possibility of infection by new variants is a concern. “I’m thinking about the other grandchildren…and all these new viruses still coming about is what concerns me,” she said. Iron Hawk worked as a checkpoint deputy last year and says she know the checkpoints work because she saw evidence of contact tracing.
“I like to know where everybody’s at,” she said. “I know that the checkpoints were working because they were sending their data to the data entry clerk that goes to the COVID hotline…where they track the tracing and then they call you back and see how you’re doing after a couple of days.”
To emphasize the importance of protecting the children, many of the elders brought their grandchildren; so the walk was multi-generational in every sense.
The walk started at the Upper Elementary School and ended at the tribal offices. The group wanted to make sure they walked while Tribal Council was still in session. Tribal Council voted in its most recent session to close down the checkpoints. The group wanted to meet with a representative from Council or the chairman’s office at the end, but the timing did not work out.
Iron Hawk says about 20 people participated walking, and about seven or eight cars followed behind. Participants included Iron Hawk, Vivian High Elk, Winona Charger, Phyllis Bald Eagle, Inez Iron Hawk, and Amos Cook.
Phyllis Bald Eagle, one of the participants, said, “The elders want to keep the checkpoints. We need to stay safe, protect our people. The stimulus bill was passed [and] there will be millions going to the tribe again.” One of the reasons cited for closing the checkpoints is lack of funding. Bald Eagle went on to say, “I do appreciate the council members and chairman who try to help our people,” but she does feel the discussion on council around the checkpoints was too political and that protecting the people should be the priority before money.
2KC Media reported on the event and said support for the checkpoints is not only related to COVID-19 concerns. The checkpoints also increase safety and deter kidnapping and human trafficking of missing and murdered Indigenous women and men, and keep people safe from nearby pipeline man camps and other pipeline activities.
The initiative for the walk actually came from a young person who asked for help in organizing. Iron Hawk responded and invited her friends and relatives to participate.