David Rupkalvis

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Over the weekend, the Coquille Indian Tribe invited the community, almost anyone in the community, to sign up to receive the COVID-19 vaccination.  

The tribe, as a sovereign government, has been receiving COVID vaccines since they became available. The tribe first vaccinated its tribal members, then opened it to its employees – those at the Mill Casino and any other tribal employees – and patients at the tribal clinic. 

When those who wanted vaccines in that area were filled, the Coquille Indian Tribe turned to its neighbors in Coos Bay, North Bend and elsewhere. 

Last Friday, the tribe had a vaccine clinic for anyone over age 65, and Sunday had a clinic for teens ages 16-19.  

The Coquille Indian Tribe, and apparently many of the tribes in the Northwest, have a tradition called the Potlatch tradition. As best as I understand it, the tradition basically says if you have a lot, you give to others who don’t. In most cases, that probably related to food, money or shelter, but during these unusual times, that means the tribe reaches out to the community as a whole to offer COVID vaccines. 

And best of all, the tribe announced Tuesday it had more vaccines available, so it is again sharing them with the community. On Friday, a clinic for seniors over age 65 will take place at the Mill Casino and Sunday, a clinic will be offered for 16- to 18-year-olds at the casino. 

There is no charge and anyone who gets a first dose, will automatically be scheduled to receive a second. 

In my opinion, helping us all get over the COVIC pandemic, and likely saving lives in the process, is a terrific way for the Coquille Indian Tribe to honor its Potlatch tradition and its neighbors. 

Tribe Chairman Brenda Meade said reaching out to the community, and all ages of the community, is just the right thing to do. 

“Our traditional culture teaches us to revere and protect our elders,” she said. “At the same time, we know that vaccinating these teens will help protect school personnel and the whole community.” 

And the Coquille tribe is not alone. Last month, I received an email from the Yurok Tribe in Northern California showing how the tribe purchased a new ambulance for the city of Klamath. Much like the Coquille tribe here, the Yurok Tribe reached out to its neighbors and found a way to meet a need.  

That’s a lesson we can all follow, especially outside of government. All around us people are suffering. Many are homeless, others are having a hard time getting food. Maybe some are just isolated away from friends and family or maybe they don’t have a way to get to the doctor’s office. 

I don’t have COVID vaccines to give out. In fact, I don’t even have one to take myself yet, but that doesn’t mean I can’t make a little difference in someone’s life. I can buy someone lunch, I can give a person a ride and, maybe most important, I can take a minute to listen to someone else when they want to talk. To top it all off, even if I’m wearing a mask, I can smile. Yes, even with a mask you can tell. 

I can make a difference one person at a time and so can you. It doesn’t have to cost a lot or require a lot, but after a year of isolation and frustration, we can help each other out. 

I appreciate the Coquille Indian Tribe and their Potlatch tradition for reminding me of that. 

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