In a donation spurred by what he called a "dire need of assistance," Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. ordered 5,000 protective facemasks to be sent to Navajo Nation, where COVID-19 rates continue to climb rapidly.
"Today it's the Navajo Nation that's in desperate need," Hoskin said on a Tuesday phone call from Tahlequah, Okla., the Cherokee capital. "The next time around, it could be the Cherokee Nation, and we would want other Indian nations to be there for us."
"It just seemed unconscionable to not reach out and try to help our brothers and sisters when we were able to do so," Hoskin said. "I could not, as Chief of the Cherokee Nation, watch what was happening in Navajo Nation and do nothing, any more than I could do that to our own people."
The Cherokee Nation, the largest Indian nation at a population of about 140,000 living within its boundaries, has confirmed 63 positive cases of COVID-19, with two deaths. On Tuesday, Navajo Nation, the second-largest Indian nation, said it had confirmed 1,769 cases, with 59 deaths.
Hoskin said the Cherokee Health Systems, the largest tribal health agency of any Indian nation, is currently well-equipped to deal with the spread of the virus.
"I wouldn't have done it had I thought it would have imperiled our health system," Hoskin said. "But looking at the numbers, visiting with our health leadership, it just seemed clear that we could afford to send some of those masks."
Hoskin said the two nations have a history of mutual aid.
"They've been there for us," Hoskin said. "In terms of being our allies on issues facing Indian Country, they've been there for us. I think that warrants all the support we can bring to bear."
The Cherokee Nation also donated 2,500 additional masks locally to first responders, emergency management offices, and other essential workers across 14 counties in northeastern Oklahoma.
"We did that not just as a matter of charity, even though it's a righteous cause to support those folks," Hoskin said, "but, look: who are the folks that Cherokee citizens come into contact with initially when there's an emergency? It's their local emergency management people."
"It makes perfect sense from a strategic standpoint, not just a charitable standpoint," Hoskin said.
Regarding Governor Kevin Stitt's now-underway reopening of many of the Oklahoma's businesses, Hoskin said the governor's office did not reach out to Cherokee Nation in making that decision, and that he disagrees with the timing. He's worried that infections still have the potential to rise rapidly.
"At Cherokee Nation, we're not immune to the type of numbers that have befallen the Navajo Nation," Hoskin said. "It could happen."
"We haven't lifted anything," Hoskin said, contrasting his response to that of other leaders. "We are bearing down and keeping people out of harm's way as much as we can."
"We try to be guided through this crisis by medical science, by the facts that are on the ground, and by compassion for not only fellow Cherokees but for the rest of the region," he said. "That's led us to not change a thing."
"It's not time to let up yet," Hoskin said. "That's my opinion, but it's an opinion based on expert advice I've received and how I read the federal guidance."