Planning for the Annual Meeting of General Council 2020 amidst COVID-19

By Ardith Van Riper

     The Office of General Council faces a unique, unprecedented situation with planning the 2020 General Council amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.  A volunteer General Council Planning Workgroup debated meeting in person versus a virtual meeting for the December 5 event.

     The annual meeting of the General Council is the largest and most significant event of the Ho-Chunk Nation.  Each year the tribal membership convenes to set policy for the Ho-Chunk Nation.

     As of an August 26, 2020, Enrollment Office query, there are a total of 7,881 enrolled Ho-Chunk Nation members.  Total voting-age members are 6,143.  Twenty percent of the eligible voters constitute a quorum.  The quorum for General Council 2020 is approximately 1,229.

     The workgroup moves forward, planning a virtual meeting and labeling it the GC2020 E-Meeting to ensure the safety and well-being of all tribal members.

     The Coronavirus (COVID-19) is an illness caused by a virus that spreads from person to person.  This virus has spread throughout the world, and everyone is at risk of getting COVID-19.

     Persons can become infected by coming into close contact with a person who has COVID-19 or by touching a surface or object with the virus on it and then by touching their mouth, nose, or eyes.  Infection spreads through respiratory droplets from when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or speaks.

     There is currently no vaccine or treatment to protect against COVID-19. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the best way to protect yourself is to avoid being exposed to the virus that causes COVID-19.  This means, stay home as much as possible, avoid close contact with others, wear a mask that covers your nose and mouth in a public setting, disinfect frequently touched surfaces, wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, and practice social distancing by staying at least six feet away from others in public settings.

     Elders and those with underlying severe medical conditions like cardiovascular disease, diabetes, chronic respiratory disease, and cancer may be at higher risk of developing more severe illnesses.

     There are approximately 980 enrolled Ho-Chunk Nation elders, age 60 plus.

     Native American adults are almost three times more likely than non-Hispanic white adults to be diagnosed with diabetes (  In 2018, Native Americans were 50% more likely to be diagnosed with coronary heart disease than their white counterparts (

     The World Health Organization states that to prevent infection and slow transmission of COVID-19, practice physical distancing by avoiding unnecessary travel and staying away from large groups of people.

     Approximately thirty percent of the enrolled Ho-Chunk Nation population resides outside the state of Wisconsin.  Minnesota, California, and Illinois top states with the next highest Ho-Chunk Nation populations.  

     Per the CDC, the more people an individual interacts with at a gathering and the longer that interaction lasts, the higher the potential risk of becoming infected with COVID-19 and COVID-19 spreading.

     The Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) issued a media release stating, “Wisconsin is seeing significant COVID-19 activity, and data show that this is at least partly due to activities like gatherings.  Data obtained from contact tracing calls indicate that the percent of people with confirmed cases of COVID-19 who reported attending a gathering, party, or other meet up with people outside their home in the past two weeks grew from 7% of cases in May to 21% of cases in July.

     DHS urges residents to consider how individual actions like the decision to attend a gather may contribute to community spread.”

     In March, when COVID-19 was upgraded to pandemic classification, the Ho-Chunk Nation Department of Health urged elders and people with severe chronic medical conditions to avoid crowds and travel.  Additionally, they requested “organizers of meetings and gatherings should consider video or teleconferencing as an alternative” in a letter.

     The Ho-Chunk Nation President Marlon E. WhiteEagle issued Administrative Order Mar. 20, 2020-1, which states, “In response to the State of Emergency declaration, I, Marlon WhiteEagle, President of the Ho-Chunk Nation, order a Nation-wide moratorium on mass gatherings of 10 people or more to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

     Effective at 11:59 PM on Friday, March 20, 2020, all public and private mass gatherings are highly discouraged, specifically when involving Ho-Chunk Nation tribal trust land, including all executive branch, governmental buildings and/or if involving executive branch personnel.”

     The Legislative Branch has recently been conducting their meetings virtually through WebEx.  A few Area Meetings are also being conducted virtually.

     The General Council Planning Workgroup considered all this information. 

     The workgroup is also planning a mock e-meeting to be held on November 21, 2020.  Participants learn to navigate the E-Meeting by practicing logging in, raising your hand, using the mic, and voting.

     Those that are not tech-savvy or have difficulties with virtual meetings can contact the Office of General Council at 715-284-7891,, or by mail at 17374 Hwy 21-Suite 2, Tomah, WI 54660.

     Hotspots and free WiFi locations will be posted later for those with inefficient Wifi or no internet connection.