The Mashpee Wampanoag tribe said it's the first tribe in the nation to receive direct federal assistance for pandemic response.
As a result, all members of federally recognized tribes are eligible for COVID-19 testing at a drive-thru site in Mashpee at no cost and regardless of symptoms.
The Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe declared a state of emergency last month to trigger funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). That money has mostly gone towards medical supplies and test kits.
“We set up a medical tent basically,” said Andrew Nelson Jr., the Director of Emergency Management for the tribe. “And doctors that are working at the Indian Health services clinic are able to test tribal members for COVID-19.”
To get tested, all tribe members must register by calling 508-539-2561 before arriving to the drive-thru. The medical screening still has to completed prior to getting tested, as would happen in any doctor’s office.
As of Wednesday morning, 26 tribal members had been tested at the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe Indian Health Services Unit. Two were positive, and three results were pending. The number of tests administered Wednesday would not be available until Thursday morning, Nelson said.
Testing had already been underway at the site for several weeks, but it was limited to those with a physician’s directive until Wednesday morning.
“Through our Emergency Declaration that I was able to get processed with the Federal Emergency Management Agency we have better access… to the test kits so that we’re able to open up and test more tribal members,” Nelson said.
Federal lawmakers have also established a separate, $8 billion "stabilization fund" to support tribal governments in their response to the pandemic.
The Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe has been delivering food and care packages with cleaning supplies and hand sanitizer to vulnerable tribal elders.
In the middle of this pandemic the tribe is also at risk of losing its land. But, Nelson noted, the Mashpee Wampanoag people have survived all kinds of attacks over the years, including widespread illness when white settlers first came to America.
“That happened early in the 1600s [and] we’re still here,” he said. “We’re still thriving.”
“We’re getting through this pandemic the same way our ancestors were able to get through the previous pandemic.”