The Nez Perce Tribe Works to Respond to Needs During COVID-19 Pandemic



Lapwai, Idaho- The Nez Perce Tribe (Tribe) continues to work hard on adapting and being responsive to the needs of the public due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Several policies, programs and services have been enacted to meet the needs of employees and tribal members during this time.

During the early stages of the Tribe’s efforts to slow the spread of the virus, the Tribe was quick to ensure that the employees’ health and safety were taken into consideration. The Nez Perce Tribal Executive Committee (NPTEC) authorized Emergency Leave for all employees. This leave policy allowed for employees in high risk or vulnerable categories to be on leave, while still being compensated. 

Authorization was provided to allow staff to work from home and work flexible hours.  The Tribe also provided resources for employees to be able to work from home to ensure that services were still being provided to tribal members. To date, the Tribe has kept all employees on payroll and is making every effort to maintain that status. 

Providing for the general health and welfare of tribal members has been a major component of tribal programs during this public health emergency.  The Tribe has implemented a variety of initiatives and policies to assist tribal members.

The NPTEC authorized an Emergency Economic Impact payment to all enrolled Nez Perce Tribal members, 18 and older to help support tribal members during these challenging times.  

The Tribe opened up a COVID Response Distribution Center (Distribution Center) on April 3rd.  The Distribution Center provides food and supplies to tribal member households. Items are purchased by the tribe and provided at no cost.  This effort was supplemented by Clearwater Paper’s generous donation of four pallets of toilet paper. 

This Distribution Center was implemented to help support the Stay At Home Order (Order) enacted by NPTEC on March 27. Individuals that place orders are able to do curb side pick-up. The Distribution Center is also delivering some food and supplies directly to elders, homebound individuals and individuals that do not have the means to pick-up the goods.  This effort will continue until further notice.

The Tribe also recruited a hunting party to travel to Montana to harvest buffalo. A large group headed over and brought back several buffalo. The meat was butchered and distributed to tribal members through the Distribution Center.

There are a few campsites in Lapwai where some people are currently living. With the ongoing concern of transient life styles at this time, the Tribe wanted to find a way to encourage compliance with the Order for those residents. To help support the Order, the Tribe purchased outhouses, a sink, and will be providing food and supplies from the Distribution Center. Nez Perce Tribal Housing Authority (NPTHA) purchased a large trash receptacle, provided gloves and trash bags to aide in clean-up. NPTHA is also providing new tents and sleeping bags.  

Tribal programs have also been sensitive to the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.  Nez Perce Tribe Utilities temporarily suspended all collection activity and water shut-offs for unpaid utilities bills.  Nez Perce Tribe Wireless is also providing payment flexibility for customers. NPTHA has provided rent credit for tenants for the months of March and April. NPTHA is also not processing any termination notices or eviction notices for non-payment.  

“We are monitoring this pandemic daily to make sure we are on the forefront with our planning. Our most valuable asset and our top priority is our people. Every decision we make is based on what we believe is best for the health and welfare of everyone. We will continue to make every effort to ensure they are taken care of,” said NPTEC Chairman, Shannon Wheeler.