Tribal offices, afterschool programs closed

Chairwoman’s daughter being brought home from Peace Corps.

Cheryl Andrews-Maltais, chair of the Wampanoag Tribe of Aquinnah, closed down tribal government buildings to keep employees and other tribe members safe. — Stacey Rupolo

Administrative offices for the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) are closed, and employees are working remotely, Cheryl Andrews-Maltais, chair of the tribal council, told The Times.

Andrews-Maltais said the offices closed at the end of the day Monday, March 16, amid growing concerns about the spread of the novel coronavirus, which causes COVID-19. The offices will be closed through March 30, when the situation will be reevaluated, she said.

The offices were kept open Monday because once a month a doctor is at tribal headquarters to see patients, she said. They wanted those patients to be able to keep those appointments, she said.

As a sovereign nation, the tribe provides healthcare services to its members, which includes a combination of things, including a full-time registered nurse and outreach coordinator, she said. Tribe members who live on-Island also use Martha’s Vineyard Hospital, while others are spread among five counties in Massachusetts, she noted.

When schools were closed by the Vineyard for two weeks and then by Gov. Charlie Baker for three, the tribe closed its afterschool program, which provides activities and some cultural learning for about 20 children, she said. “We’re following state and local protocols.”

On March 6, the tribe also instituted a travel ban and visitor ban. Andrews-Maltais didn’t want herself or anyone else going to “hot zones” of the virus and then coming back to the Island.

“Like everybody, we’re concerned and vigilant,” she said.

The coronavirus has hit some tribes hard across the country, because of lack of testing kits. Tribes wait in line behind states, who have to issue the supplies, she said. “When it gets to tribal clinics, we are woefully undersupplied and underfunded,” she said. Some larger tribes that generate revenue — think those with casinos — are able to fund their own medical facilities.

The Wampanoag tribe relies on the federal government for funding to provide direct services to elders and referrals to doctors.

She pointed out that the Aquinnah tribe and other tribes in the Northeast are no strangers to disease being brought in from other countries, a point she makes on conference calls with Washington, D.C., health officials. “We are the first tribe to survive the first germ warfare in this territory, so we take this very seriously,” she said.

Andrews-Maltais said she was headed to Boston Thursday to pick up her daughter, Samantha, 23, who was among the Peace Corps nearly 7,000 volunteers pulled back this week — a first in the agency’s 55-year history of service. Her daughter was serving in Tonga in the South Pacific and made the journey home through Fiji, LAX in California, and arrived at Logan Airport in Boston.

Samantha will live at a family property on the mainland where she will self-quarantine, Andrews-Maltais said. “We can’t be responsible for bringing anything [to the Island],” she said.