What The Eastern Cherokee Can Teach The U.S. About Public Health

May 13, 2020

Credit Courtesy of the Museum of the Cherokee Indian

The Cherokee Indian Hospital Authority has been mass testing asymptomatic residents and visitors to territories held by the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. In restricting EBCI borders and closing businesses, Principal Chief Richard Sneed preempted most counties and Gov. Roy Cooper.

Keeping elders safe is the utmost priority for North Carolina’s only federally-recognized tribe. With 16,000 members in the tribe and a dwindling population of fluent Cherokee language speakers, protecting older members from coronavirus is tantamount to preserving their cultural heritage. Yet the public health solutions of the sovereign nation also undercut funding their hospital system. The hospital opted out of the notoriously under-funded Indian Health Services thanks to a casino-supported tax base. But with casinos closed for all of April, a Catch 22 developed between good public health policy and funding the hospital.

Host Frank Stasio discusses lessons learned by the Cherokee Indian Hospital with Lilly Knoepp, Blue Ridge Public Radio’s reporter for western North Carolina.