At the start of the pandemic, as the first few cases of coronavirus emerged in the U.S. we knew that we had to act quickly to ensure that we were prepared as much as possible in order to support our tribal communities before the virus reached Maine. Due to the overall history of poor outcomes for Indigenous people during past widespread public health crises we knew that the tribes we serve were at a higher risk. These past poor health outcomes were, in large part, due to problems with infrastructure and not having adequate supplies to keep people in tribal communities safe. To make sure that Indigenous people in Maine had the necessary supplies, we pushed to launch a crisis campaign early in the pandemic.
The campaign included sewing thousands of cloth masks, securing sufficient amounts of cleaning supplies and hand sanitizer, and ensuring that tribal communities had clean drinking water. A particular concern is at the Passamaquoddy reservation at Pleasant Point, where people who live there have not had access to clean drinking water for decades.
We made partnerships with several organizations such as the Good Shepherd Food Bank, as well as several big box stores, and local farmers to secure as much drinking water and food as possible. As community members became isolated in their homes, we developed a color-coded system for them to be able to communicate with us and health officials while remaining socially distanced.
The system involved community members putting up different colored pieces of construction paper in their windows to signal messages from the safety of their homes depending on their needs. Red paper meant that someone needed immediate assistance, yellow told us that they were short on supplies, and blue represented a need for human contact and someone to simply just check in on them.
These actions taken during the pandemic have helped to lower the impact of the virus on the state’s Indigenous population. While all of these efforts still continue, we have shifted our focus to vaccination now that doses are available.