Published October 3, 2022

The Lomakatsi Restoration Project announced the completion and celebration of its first public health program which was designed to bring COVID-19 resources to underserved communities in Southern Oregon.

Throughout a two-year period that wrapped up in June, Lomakatsi’s pilot program received $500,000 in grant funding that was used to reach 3,000 people in Klamath, Jackson and Josephine counties with a specialized focus on reaching Indigenous and Spanish-speaking communities.

According to Tribal Partnerships Director Belinda Brown, Lomakatsi’s engagement in the program came through the Oregon Health Authority, which reached out to Lomakatsi due to the organization’s built-in trust within Southern Oregon’s Tribal and Latino communities.

The program broke new ground for Lomakatsi, which has otherwise worked entirely outside the public health sector on projects such as forest and watershed restoration.

“Klamath County was the first county that we established the memorandum of understanding with,” Brown said, regarding the partnership with OHA. She said the work done in Klamath County included contact tracing, community outreach and engagement, and wraparound services.

She said that of the 3,000 people reached by the program, about 1,000 were from all over Klamath County, including people from Klamath Falls, Chiloquin, Beatty and Sprague River. Lomakatsi created public service announcements and posters to reach community members, integrating the work of local Native American artist Justice Blacksun, who currently serves as a Tribal workforce associate for the organization.

Brown described the posters as having culturally relevant messaging, emphasizing “safe and strong Oregon,” while depicting Native people.

Executive Director Marko Bey said that while Lomakatsi had to buy supplies and train employees in new areas, they were well positioned to help local communities thanks to a strong infrastructure. He also said that of the 80 full-time employees at Lomakatsi, 75% are Tribal and Latino.

“Twenty-seven of those 80 employees are Tribal,” he said. “So through our executive leadership to our program leadership, we’re integrated in those communities. That’s why Oregon Health Authority requested our support even though it’s out of the scope of what we do.”

Brown emphasized the importance of identity and language in being able to reach many of the Spanish-speaking people in Klamath and Jackson counties. Lomakatsi distributed posters to churches, schools and grocery stores, all in Spanish. But there were still challenges to overcome when meeting people individually.

“They were afraid to come into any other outreach besides ours because they were afraid they were going to get deported,” Brown said.

Brown, who is Native American, also stressed the impact that COVID-19 has had on the Tribes, including her own family and relatives in Chiloquin. She said she lost her own mother to the disease.

“A lot of it’s due to the segregation and fear of outsiders coming in to help, because nobody’s typically or historically helped our people,” she said. “Some of our elders thought they were giving them COVID by sticking the swab up their nose. It was just another one of those situations like the smallpox epidemic.”

“We’re a restoration organization,” Brown said, “Forestry, riparian restoration, across the two states, across Oregon and Northern California. A 27-year-old non-profit. And because we have that 75% of our people being Latino and Tribal, that is why we were tagged by the state to do this community-based outreach.”

Lomakatsi was ultimately successful in reaching out to thousands of people who might have otherwise slipped through the cracks.

“You have to have that trust before you’re able to come in,” Brown said. “Before people will open their doors to you.”

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