Native American tribe pushes through lack of resources, education to fight COVID-19

Around one third of the 1600 people in Waccamaw Siouan tribe are now food insecure because of the COVID-19 pandemic
Updated: Sep. 28, 2020 at 9:24 PM EDT
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COLUMBUS COUNTY, N.C. (WECT) - Leaders of the Waccamaw Siouan tribe believe they had started a revival before the COVID-19 pandemic arrived. But the efforts to spread the word of the tribe’s rich history came to a halt, replaced by the efforts to keep families safe.

“It’s hard to stay up or catch up when you don’t have the resources to do so," said Chief Michael Jacobs.

Chief Jacobs said the Waccamaw Siouan Tribe is struggling to cope with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Living mostly in rural Columbus and Bladen counties, spotty and unreliable internet service has hurt the children’s education…and slowed the spread of vital information about testing and prevention.

About one third of the tribe has become food insecure. Many members are also afraid of contracting the virus, given that underlying health issues are common in Native Americans, according to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services.

“We don’t have a lot of the information these other places have because of our location and it really makes things hard when folks ask you questions why," said Chief Jacobs. "You can’t tell them why because you don’t know why.”

Prior to the pandemic, Chief Jacobs said the tribe had gone through a revitalization. Older adults made a commitment to teach their history and heritage to the younger generation. For the first time in 50 years, one of the tribe’s traditional organized events, the Pauwau, won’t happen.

“We’ve been put on the back-burner," said Jacobs. "Our language lost, our culture lost and we’re in the mood of revitalization to revitalize our tribe and our youth. And when COVID hit, it just knocked the wind out of everything.”

It’s unfamiliar territory and a tough blow for the Waccamaw Siouan tribe. They have reached out to county and state leaders, so the assistance that has helped other communities will reach theirs.

Members of the tribe have delivered more than 300 meals to families in need through the pandemic. They’ve received a grant to start a food pantry that opens this coming Saturday to help feed their community.

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