Tribal Government & News

Tribal Council prepares for financial effects of virus outbreak, declares emergency

03.18.2020 Dean Rhodes Tribal Council, Health & Wellness

By Dean Rhodes

Smoke Signals editor

In the shadow of the novel coronavirus outbreak, Tribal Council met early on Wednesday, March 18, at 10 a.m. after advising the membership to not attend in person and to watch the proceedings via the live stream feed on the Tribal website,

Keeping attendance small was a continued effort to stem the spread of the virus, called COVID-19. Tribal Council members sat six feet apart with empty seats between them to model social distancing and Tribal Council Chairwoman Cheryle A. Kennedy asked meeting attendees to do the same.

Two late items added to the Tuesday, March 17, Legislative Action Committee agenda involved preparing the Tribe for possible financial contingencies as the pandemic evolves.

Tribal Council approved suspending all loan payments, including principal and interest, to the Tribe from Spirit Mountain Gaming Inc.

Tribal Council also approved using up to $20 million from its line of credit to maintain account liquidity.

Tribal Attorney Rob Greene said during the Legislative Action Committee meeting that the two moves will help prepare the Tribal for all financial contingencies.

Tribal Council member Michael Langley said he thought the line of credit resolution was a “good move” because interest rates are very low currently.

Tribal Council member Jack Giffen Jr. said he wanted the membership to know it was a unanimous council decision regarding the two financial items.

The Tribe moved to close its primary economic engine, Spirit Mountain Casino, from Thursday, March 19, through Wednesday, April 1.

During the Legislative Action Committee meeting, Tribal Council Chairwoman Cheryle A. Kennedy said the Tribe is working diligently on emergency management protocols to keep coronavirus at bay and out of the community. The Tribe has established an emergency management control center in the Community Center to monitor developments.

The regimen includes daily cleaning at the government campus buildings, as well as practicing social distancing – staying at least 6 feet away from other people – and limiting crowds to 10 or fewer people.

Kennedy also said the current state of affairs involves spiritual warfare vs. fear and panic. “We have faith that our Creator will keep this all in order,” she said.

A late addition to the Tribal Council agenda was declaring a state of emergency at the Tribe. The resolution allows General Manager David Fullerton to oversee the Tribal response to the pandemic and use Tribal resources to respond and recover from its effects.

Fullerton said the emergency declaration allows the Tribe to launch mutual aid agreements if necessary, provides the Tribe access to federal assistance and gives the Tribe access to federal resources, such as essential personal protection equipment for Tribal health professionals who are on the front lines in the battle against the virus. It is the first time the Tribe has declared a state of emergency since its 1983 Restoration as a federally recognized Tribe.

"The COVID-19 outbreak is constantly changing. This declaration allows us to seek the help of our partners in a time where working together is key to stopping the spread of COVID-19," Kennedy said. "We need to come together as a community. We need to check on one another, make sure our Elders are taken care of, and use our strength as a community to see each other through this challenging time."

Fullerton added that the Tribe has established a phone number – 503-879-4357 (HELP) – for Tribal members to call between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. Monday through Friday if they need nonmedical aid, such as replenishing supplies or groceries. Those with medical problems should still call their primary care physician.

Grand Ronde Station adjacent to Spirit Mountain Casino is remaining open to help the community and Grand Ronde Food Bank Coordinator Francene Ambrose said food distribution dates are continuing as scheduled with modifications to the distribution process to help fight spread of the virus.

In addition, Tribal Council reminded members that the Sunday, April 5, General Council meeting scheduled in Eugene has been canceled.

Although the situation is serious, Kennedy said she is confident the Tribe will get through the crisis.

“I want our Tribal members to be healthy,” she said. “We will continue to thrive. … The most precious thing in life is our life.”

The agenda also included:

  • Approval of 24 non-infant applications for enrollment into the Tribe because the applicants meet the requirements outlined in the Tribal Constitution and Enrollment Ordinance;
  • Approved a memorandum of understanding with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation regarding the Scroggins Dam, which is an earthen structure built on the Tualatin River for irrigation, water supply and flood control. The dam impounds the water that makes up Henry Haag Lake near Forest Grove and there are concerns about its seismic stability;
  • Approved the Tribal Housing Department’s 2019 Annual Performance Report that must be submitted to the U.S. Housing and Urban Development Department’s Office of Native American Programs. The Tribe received more than $3 million in HUD funding in the 2019 fiscal year;
  • And approved the 115-acre Cheechako Logging Unit as presented by Natural Resources staff that will earn the Tribe an estimated $2.13 million in net revenue. “Cheechako” is Chinuk Wawa for “newcomer.”

The entire meeting can be viewed by signing on the Tribal government website at and clicking on the Government tab and then Videos.