WHITERIVER – While the debate rages on regarding the wearing of face masks to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, some 7,720 White Mountain Apache tribal members are either wearing or waiting anxiously to don their own personal mask. Yes, personal mask. But with the last 250 to 300 insignia masks having been sent out on July 1 — the one that so many now want and would proudly wear — they are no longer available unless a sponsor can be found.
In order to stop the rapid spread of the virus on the White Mountain Apache Reservation, the tribal council mandated a 57 hour lockdown on June 26, followed by a two week shelter in place extended closure for non-essential workers. Additionally, it was mandated that face masks or face coverings must be worn in public to help slow or stop-the-spread.
As of the first of July, White Mountain Apache Chairwoman Gwendena posted there were 1,864 COVID-19 cases and 25 deaths for the reservation. According to 2019 statistical data by the Arizona Department of Health Services, the population for the WMAT is 13,500.
Chairwoman Gwendena found a mask that is not only sporty with cool artwork, but comes in multiple colors and sizes. With the help of funds she was able to get in the form of corporate sponsorships and grants she was able to offer the masks on social media to those who first responded. By the end of June the staff was working on the last 3,000 of those masks, and after the last of them were sent, there are no more. According to the Chairwoman’s Chief of Staff Jerry Gloshay, those masks are still in high demand.
Gloshay explained, “Essentially, the tribe wants to make serious effort to stop the virus from our Tribal homelands. We want to protect our most vulnerable, especially one of our greatest resources, our Elders. The face mask is an important weapon against COVID-19.
“The staff has been acting like an efficient manufacturing assembly line – a well-oiled machine putting the mask packages together,” said Gloshay. “They have been going crazy stuffing the packages. We put the name and address tag on the envelope, then go pick up the mask and put it in a small bag, close and seal it and put it in order of where it is to be sent, like Whiteriver, Cibeque, Ft. Apache — to make it easier.
“It is like the Chairwoman is Santa Claus and we are the elves.”
The mask, sporting the Great Seal of the Apache Tribe on the bottom left and the Apache words ‘adagots’ idzaa on the upper right, invokes a sense of community and pride for the Apache people. Translated into English the words mean Protect Yourself.
Gloshay noted that seeing those words on the masks worn by others sends out a positive message that everyone is important.
In an interview with “Farmlink” (thefarmlinkproject.org) published on June 28, Chairwoman Gwendena was quoted saying, “People who previously didn’t want to wear masks now have a sense of pride, and are subliminally sharing information about protecting themselves.”
Gloshay said, “Chairwoman Lee-Gatewood leaves an open invitation to anyone or businesses to sponsor these masks to offset costs from her budget.”
Anyone wishing to help may contact the Office of the Chairwoman at email@example.com or call (928) 594-0310.