WHITERIVER — Some people do not want to wear masks, while others do.

On the White Mountain Apache Reservation, tribal members stand in line for masks and hope they do not run out before they get one.

When Chairwoman Gwendena Lee-Gatewood announced on March 6 that she had a limited edition of Buff-brand face masks in three colors — black, medium blue and maroon — she told people who wanted one to go to the tribal office 8 between 8 a.m. and noon on March 8.

“We gave them out when they arrived. We had a line forming at 7 a.m. and they were gone (in) under an hour,” stated Lee-Gatewood in an email to the Independent.

The masks are free to the recipients, if they can get one, but that is not the draw.

In an interview the chairwoman did with “Farmlink” (thefarmlinkproject.org), which was published on June 28, she was quoted as saying, “People who previously didn’t want to wear masks now have a sense of pride, and are subliminally sharing information about protecting themselves.”

Lee-Gatewood told the Independent she designed the first mask.

“It has a word in Apache, “a’dagots’idzaa” (the last two a letters have a backward comma under those letters). That word means take heed, watch out for yourself.”

That mask also had the great seal of the Apache tribe on the bottom left with the Apache words on the upper right.

Lee-Gatewood said the arrival of the masks came at a time last year when masks were hardly being worn due to hesitancy or when people could not get any.

She said the new neck buffs are a newer design that runners and outdoor folks like snowboarders and skiers want because “it is easy to pull them up and down versus taking it off your ear and having to place your mask somewhere.”

“I get a lot of requests for these masks. I do my best to fund raise (or get grants) to order them so the people can have them to use for added protection,” stated Lee-Gatewood.

“The tribal members are grateful for the masks I am very happy to be able to help them with these masks, because we all know it’s the science behind safety and helping stop the spread of COVID-19.”

Lee-Gatewood said the tribe has received requests from as far away as Japan and Australia from WMAT tribal members who are serving in the military.

She says “the great seal tells the story of our people, and there’s a sense of unity and is symbolic of standing together when we have been forced apart.”

To date, the total number of masks ordered is 11,830 and 100 neck buffs.

As of March 15, the tribe entered Phase 2 whereby tribal members are back to work and many restrictions have been relaxed.

The daily increase in the number of COVID-19 cases has been at zero since going to Phase 2 except for one day, when the increase was one.

Vaccinations for the primer shot are at 6,796 with 5,351 second shots — both Pfizer, and 235 Johnson & Johnson shots, as of March 17.

Past due for second shots are 521.

And, with all that is being done and has been accomplished to date, the never-ending mantra from the WMAT Emergency Operations Center is still “Wear a mask when you are in public.”

Reach the reporter at bbruce@wmicentral.com

Barbara Bruce is a reporter for the White Mountain Independent, covering arts and entertainment on the Mountain and the Pinetop-Lakeside town government.

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