Few coronavirus cases, but hundreds still victims in U.P. tribal community

The chairman of the Bay Mills Indian Community says the tribe cannot continue paying 400 employees while the tribe’s resort and casino are shut down due to coronavirus. (Shutterstock)

There is only one confirmed case of the coronavirus in Chippewa County, in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Still, the pandemic claimed 400 victims there Wednesday, when the Bay Mills Indian Community laid off 60 percent of its employees, most of whom worked for the tribe’s now-shuttered casino, restaurants and resort.

In an impassioned series of tweets late Wednesday, Bay Mills Indian Community Tribal Chairman Bryan Newland acknowledged that he had notified 400 employees that they won’t be receiving a paycheck for the foreseeable future. The tribe, located in the northeastern Upper Peninsula, had been dipping into financial reserves to continue paying employees since the tribe voluntarily closed its resort and casinos three weeks ago, after Gov. Gretchen Whitmer ordered non-tribal casinos closed.

“Despite what may assume, casino tribes aren’t all rich,” a distraught Newland wrote on Twitter. “Most are just ‘getting by.’ And our executives don’t run for-profit enterprises. These casinos fund our governments.”

Bay Mills officials had hoped to continue paying employees using small business loans available as part of the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, or CARES Act. Newland said the tribe submitted paperwork to the U.S. Small Business Administration in hopes of receiving funds, but never heard back.

“Our lender was literally sending all-caps, multiple exclamation points emails to folks at the Small Business Association and could not get a response,” he said. 

By Saturday, when the latest payroll period ended and with no end to the pandemic in sight, the Tribe could not afford to wait for an answer. Waiting another two-week pay period would mean spending an additional $500,000 to pay employees of businesses that have generated no revenue for almost a month.

The resort and casino is the largest employer in its community and the third-largest employer in Chippewa County, Newland said. The affected employees represent about 60 percent of the tribe’s payroll.

The numbers alone make the layoffs agonizing for a small community that depends upon the resort and casino for its livelihood, Newland said, but they don’t reflect the personal agony of telling friends and family they no longer have an income. The only consolation is that the tribe is continuing to pay employees’ health insurance.

“I just had to lay off my in-laws,” Newland said. “I’ve never had to do anything like this before. You run for public office to help people.” 

Newland said other tribes are also feeling the financial strain caused by stay-home orders affecting tribal businesses, from casinos and hotels to gas stations. Tribal leaders from across the country are “frantically working with members of congress” to persuade the Small Business Association to make loans available to tribal hotels and restaurants.

“I’m going to be sad for a little bit this evening,” he said. “I'm going to check on my family and friends and make sure they’re OK. Then I’ve got to get up tomorrow and work with our health team to make sure we’re prepared for an outbreak in our community.”


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Thu, 04/09/2020 - 10:27am

A lot of people have lost their jobs that don't receive tribal bonus funds on a regular basis to boost their income, so we are supposed to feel especial sorry for Indians? I have way more sympathy for those that lost their jobs or income form C-19 that lost their only source of income and are waiting for the slow unemployment compensation.

Sun, 04/12/2020 - 8:56pm

Mike, Bay Mills Indian Community members do not receive, "tribal bonus funds." The jobs are the only source of income. While I am not a member of the Bay Mills Community, many of my friends and relatives are members and I can say with confidence, they neither want you to feel, " especially sorry," nor do they want your, "sympathy." Chairman Newland was requesting only what other small business have been offered from the Federal government. Many from the Tribe are in that slow unemployment compensation line with you, Mike.

Thu, 04/09/2020 - 10:49am

In the press conference yesterday, the President, in response to a question about the casinos in NV, replied that he was unaware of the problem and would look into it. He said he likes casinos and gaming. Hang in there, and good luck. Sometimes you have to go to the horse's head to get the help you need.

Thu, 04/09/2020 - 1:28pm

Join the club, and we're trying to run morally legit businesses, like medical clinics, not gambling. Only Trump donor banks are giving loans. So you are lucky if you happen to have an account with them. The madness keeps getting worse. Trump lies and lies and lies and his zombie followers love him even more. He's saving "his" federal ventilators for "his" red states, even though all Americans paid for them. God, make this end!

Mon, 04/13/2020 - 6:07am

Who are you to decide what's moral? Are you God? This is what He says about spreading false information "if the witness be a false witness, and hath testified falsely against his brother; Then shall ye do unto him, as he had thought to have done unto his brother: so shalt thou put the evil away from among you. And those which remain shall hear, and fear, and shall henceforth commit no more any such evil among you. And thine eye shall not pity; but life shall go for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot." Blasey Ford would have been charged and sentenced under God's Law. How much more the media which continues to spread falsehoods? The sentence was always death by stoning, by the way
The 'gentle' Jesus said: "Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it." Then He said "and because I tell you the truth, ye believe me not." Why? Because they are the Devil's children, and they have their father's nature. "Be not deceived" we are told, "whatsoever you sow, that shall you reap"; because as Paul puts it, "God is not mocked"...