YST leader promotes COVID vaccine | Community
WAGNER – Robert Flying Hawk knows firsthand how COVID-19 affects Native Americans, as he himself contracted and battled the disease.
Now, the president of the Yankton Sioux tribe has taken to the airwaves and social media to share his story. It is featured in a one-minute commercial and produced for the South Dakota Department of Health (DOH).
Flying Hawk is one of a DOH series called “Trusted Voices,” which launched earlier this year, according to Health Secretary Kim Malsam-Rysdon. The series contains four videos with different people and backgrounds.
âThis particular ad (with Flying Hawk) was aimed at the Yankton Sioux and other tribal members of our state,â Malsam-Rysdon said.
In March 2020, the Wagner Service Area was the first nationwide Indian Health Service (IHS) facility to register a positive COVID case. Charles Mix County, which includes the traditional homeland of the Yankton Sioux, recorded some of South Dakota’s first cases of COVID.
For Flying Hawk, spreading the message of vaccination and other protective measures against the virus has become a very personal mission.
In addition to television, the video can be found on YouTube. The one-minute message opens with Flying Hawk in traditional attire in the middle of a rolling meadow.
He is running as president of the Yankton Sioux, known as the Ihanktonwan Nation. The traditional homeland of the tribe is located along the Missouri River in southern Charles Mix County.
During the video, Flying Hawk talks about his battle with the disease. Some of the earliest cases came when little was known about the virus, its transmission and its treatment.
âAt the start with this COVID virus, there were a lot of unknowns. Right away we realized that COVID-19 could take your life’s breath away, âhe said. âUnfortunately, I had it. My experience with COVID was scary. But like a lot of things that seem negative at first glance, we can use them in a positive way.â
In the video, Flying Hawk seeks to address concerns about inoculation.
âThe vaccine is safe, there is no cost to you and it will help us all get through this,â he said in conclusion.
Even before the ad campaign, the Yankton Sioux tribe and the surrounding community led South Dakota in terms of vaccination rates. As of June, 71.3% – nearly three-quarters – of the 3,668 residents of the Wagner service area had received the blow, according to figures from IHS.
For COVID vaccinations, the Wagner facility will serve all residents, whether or not they are eligible for IHS services.
The 71% figure included both Indigenous and non-Indigenous residents, as well as those who were vaccinated at other locations, such as the Bubak Clinic and Wagner Community Memorial Hospital-Avera in the community.
And now, Flying Hawk and others are encouraging the unvaccinated to get vaccinated and the vaccinated to complete their streak.
The âTrusted Voicesâ campaign was a success from the start, led by the Flying Hawk video, according to Malsam-Rysdon. The videos had a strong reach among the nearly 900,000 residents of the state.
âIn July alone, more than 518,000 South Dakotas watched the series an average of four times, this video being one of the most viewed,â she said. âThe main message we tried to get across is to get vaccinated in order to protect yourself and your family. “
Flying Hawk offers connection and credibility with the target audience, Malsam-Rysdon said.
âWhen the message comes from someone in the community, in this case the (tribal) president who had COVID, the message is more impactful and meaningful,â she said.
Flying Hawk did not limit its post to videos. Last June, he shared his story at the IHS facility in Wagner as part of a visit from then-IHS Acting Director Elizabeth Fowler.
In his remarks, Flying Hawk spoke about the impact of COVID on his life.
âI caught the virus and it was scary. I did the two weeks (quarantine), and I had a headache, aches and pains, âhe said. âI couldn’t sleep and was very uncomfortable. But then I got the vaccine, and now I feel good.
During his visit, Fowler heard stories of how COVID hit Native Americans hard.
American Indians and Alaskan natives have infection rates more than 3.5 times higher than non-Hispanic whites, she said. They are more than four times more likely to be hospitalized from COVID-19 and have higher death rates at younger ages than non-Hispanic white people.
Fowler praised Flying Hawk for telling his story.
âI think it really helps build trust and explain why we don’t want to catch the virus,â she said. âHearing the president of the tribe really helps build confidence in the vaccine. â¦ The COVID-19 vaccine means we can get back to normal and do the things we love to do. “
Flying Hawk’s work with COVID goes beyond fighting the disease and making video. He and other tribal leaders took action to protect the community when the first local case of COVID was detected about 21 months ago.
On March 10, 2020, Yankton Sioux tribal chiefs were notified of a suspected positive diagnosis at Wagner’s IHS service unit. The test has been sent to CDC for confirmation.
At the time, the tribe declared a state of emergency with multiple measures to ensure the safety and well-being of tribal citizens, employees, customers and the surrounding community at large.
The population of Yankton Sioux remains at higher risk due to several factors. The tribe has a large elderly population, with many households containing several generations living together. Additionally, members of the tribe have a high rate of diabetes and other underlying conditions that would be particularly dangerous with COVID.
The vaccination effort has targeted all age groups, from the elderly to the young to the middle-aged population caring for vulnerable tribesmen.
For a variety of reasons, many Native Americans remain reluctant to vaccinate, Fowler said.
âThe indigenous community has historical and cultural hesitations when it comes to government and vaccinations,â she said. âYou hear some communities say, because it’s the government, they believe there is something in the vaccine that is going to hurt them. They just believe they are being targeted by the vaccine.
Fowler stressed the importance of the COVID-19 vaccination effort.
âWe have to stay focused. We want to hit this thing hard, âshe said. âGetting back to normal is really our top priority. Don’t let your guard down. We must continue to fight.
In this regard, the ‘Trusted Voices’ campaign plays a crucial role, said Malsam-Rysdon.
“We are grateful to leaders like President Robert Flying Hawk and so many others across our state for agreeing to help spread the message that COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective,” said she declared.
In the video, Flying Hawk encourages receiving the COVID vaccination for the benefit of the tribe itself.
âI took the vaccine, and I am a believer. My hope and my prayer is to share my story and encourage everyone to get vaccinated, âhe said.
âThere is a light at the end of the tunnel and the vaccination will help us preserve our community and our culture for future generations. “
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