Employees clash with Native nations

NIOBRARA --  In an ethical debate, tribal nations across the state of Nebraska are considering COVID-19 vaccine mandates. Some tribes are enacting them, some aren't. For the Santee Sioux Nation, their spring mandate has caused upheaval. 

The nation originally told employees they could either be vaccinated by or have an appointment by the deadline of May 1st. But, on April 30, they then told people that if they did not have the vaccine they should not come to work.

Amanda Taylor, a member of the Ponca and of the Santee Sioux Nation, said she was disappointed when her coworkers at the E Z Shop in Yankton had to leave. While Taylor herself believes in vaccines, she said the sudden change was unjust. 

"I had mine scheduled for the 12th but they changed it the day before so I lost my job," said Dylan Hoffman, an ex-employee.

Others didn't want to get one in the first place. 

"I don't like a business telling me what to do with my body and I mean, not to downplay it, but I work at a gas station I'm not a medical professional," Erika Rohlk said.

Santee Sioux Vice-Chairman Sid Tuttle said he stands by the decision - citing the recommendations from federal health experts.

"I voted yes to protect our children," he explained. He cited the death of his own family members as a motivator. "What is the other option?" he asked.

While the move may be upsetting to some, legal experts explained the tribe is well within its rights.

Attorney Richard McGee, who specializes in tribal law, told NCN a vaccine mandate is a decision that is solely up to the tribe.

And, the EEOC states businesses can deem mandates at their will.

As for precedents, the Winnebago Tribe does not have a vaccine mandate, while the Omaha Tribe of Nebraska is considering passing one.

Tribe members aren't taking the mandate lying down. Lee Red Owl started a petition to overturn the vaccine mandate, which gained 640 signatures.