Juneau, Alaska (KINY) - Tlingit & Haida Central Council has moved that the Juneau held annual gathering composed of delegates from communities in the state, as well as communities in the lower 48, from an in-person event to a virtual format.
The decision comes in the wake of new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention mask-wearing guidance that recommends fully vaccinated individuals return to wearing a mask indoors in areas with high or substantial COVID-19 transmission as well as new information about the Delta variant’s ability to spread among vaccinated people. Tlingit & Haida Central Council President, Richard Peterson, said the CDC guidance has tremendously contributed to the decision. "Through this pandemic, we formed our own Tribal Emergency Operations Center with incident commander Jason Wilson, and I think the tribe has been kind of at the forefront of making these decisions based on facts," he said.
Peterson said the Executive Council's unanimous decision came down to concerns about hosting the Tribal Assembly and bringing in delegates from far and wide, and from communities that are seeing spikes in COVID. "Especially with this delta variant. We know there are quite a few breakthroughs where folks who've been vaccinated are getting it. So we want to put the safety and the well-being of our citizens, our staff, and of course our delegates at the forefront," Peterson said. "I think it would be irresponsible for us in doing our governance, to convene in person, when we're seeing such a large spike, especially here in southeast in our communities, Sitka, and Juneau seeing a large spike again."
Peterson said they have large delegations from Seattle, California, and in the villages. "We feel a real obligation and duty to make sure we're not a part of spreading and that we're a part of the solution and not the problem," he said.
The gathering was previously postponed from April to this fall and according to a release, it was based on requests from delegates who expressed their hope that a deferment of Tribal Assembly would provide for a greater likelihood for delegates to gather in-person. There was planning being put into an in-person gathering, but Peterson said that following the decision to postpone they have had to keep an eye on the possibility of going back to virtual.
Peterson was asked where the planning is at for this year's gathering. He said they were able to take what they learned at last year's virtual gathering, "What worked, what didn't, and I think we're in a pretty good position and following all those to have a successful virtual Assembly this year."
The virtual 86th Tribal Assembly is slated for September 30.
Tlingit & Haida also recently closed its offices to the public. "Seeing the CDC mandates, we took our staff to go back to work from home. None of us wants to do this. None of us wants to work from home," Peterson said. "As Tlingit and Haida people, we value our relationships, and in-person and meeting and having those, being able to just share and gather."