Rhonda Silence

A conversation on COVID-19 readiness with Grand Portage Tribal Chair Beth Drost

During the coronavirus, COVID-19 pandemic, WTIP Community Radio has been checking in with local government officials to learn more about the community response to the virus. WTIP’s Rhonda Silence spoke with Grand Portage Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Tribal Chair Beth Drost. Speaking on May 4, a few days before the first COVID-19 case in Lake County, Drost noted Grand Portage, like other communities continued to ready itself for the first cases on the North Shore.

WTIP asked once again about operations at the Grand Portage Lodge and Casino. No date has been set for an opening yet, but planning is under way. Opening may start will likely start with limited food offerings, pizza perhaps, said Drost.

Chair Drost shared that some of the people that the community has relied on to work at the lodge and casino, J1 international workers, have been stranded here because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Some international workers from Jamaica are still in Grand Portage, waiting until it is safe to travel to return to their home country. In the meantime, Drost said, they are being provided with food and shelter.

The current situation raises the question of whether or not Grand Portage Lodge will continue to bring in international workers to the community. These J1 workers are critical to the workforce, but Drost said that is something that will be closely looked at for the future.

A recent report in a University of Minnesota newspaper focused on studies that have shown chemicals in the waters of Grand Portage. Chair Drost said that is quite troubling. She said Grand Portage Trust Lands has participated in studies with the university on a number of environmental matters in the past and they will continue to do so. Drost said the Tribal Council has asked Trust Lands staff to provide more information on the study with guidelines on safely eating fish.

Finally, Drost announced that the next meeting of the Reservation Tribal Council (RTC) will be conducted online and available for viewing by Grand Portage Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Band Members. That meeting will be Wednesday, May 13 at 10 a.m. For more information on participating, contact Chair Drost at bethd@grandportage.com.