The Winnebago Tribe in Nebraska is a close-knit community that takes communication with its members seriously. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, they searched out new ways to keep people informed.
The Tribe has a population of about 1,500 living on the reservation, with another 500 workers who come in daily. According to Garan Coons, Communications Officer for the Winnebago Tribe, there are many vulnerable people there, with underlying health conditions. That’s why they decided to use funding from the Cares Act on a digital sign.
“When the pandemic hit, we enacted a curfew, had mask requirements, and we needed to get the word out,” says Coons. “The messages we put out there could save lives.”
When they received money from the Cares Act, they decided to install a digital sign. The location for the sign is in the heart of Winnebago, right across from the hospital. Most of the population lives within six blocks of it.
“The whole point is communication with tribal members,” explains Coons. “We’ll have emergency broadcasting on it, along with instructional videos. Because we used Cares Act money for it, we have certain restrictions on how we use it for now.”
They break ground on November 12 for the 10-foot-high, 20 x 16 sign. As part of the project, the Tribe also plans to build a facility to house IT for the sign, along with handicap accessible restrooms and water, so Tribal elders can stay in the area.
“We also plan to live stream Council meetings, so our elders know what’s going on,” Coons says. “Some of them aren’t online, and we need to keep them informed.”
Planning for the future
The pandemic won’t last forever, and Winnebago wants to continue to use their digital sign to bring the Tribe together. They got some ideas from Daktronics sales rep Cody Vandeweerd.
“I did a site survey and noticed they had a large green space around the area they wanted to put the structure,” says Vandeweerd. “I recommended they include a public space in the project. I had done one in Concordia, Kansas and thought something like that would be a good fit.”
The Tribal Council agreed. They’re planning to apply for a grant for Phase 2 of the project, which will include a stage and green space.
“We want an area to congregate so we can do more together,” says Coons. “The community likes basketball, we have lots of powwows, and we can continue to live stream Council meetings. Maybe we can do graduations and movie nights eventually. People can set up lawn chairs. We can have social distance family nights.”
Coons credits many people with making the project happen.
“It took some vision, but the council, the pandemic task force, the tribal engineer, and Daktronics all came together.”