With the rise of the Digital Age, virtual meetings have become more and more common in the workplace, social organizations, service organizations, and even in bonds held between friends and family. However, the need for virtual meetings has skyrocketed with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. To maintain social distancing and help keep people as safe as possible, the world has rapidly and aggressively transitioned toward virtual meetings and gatherings.
The Catawba Nation is no exception to this need for change. Since March, most of the Catawba Nation staff has been teleworking and has continued conducting business and providing services to citizens using software like Microsoft Teams, Zoom, and the standard phone call. The Nation has also offered virtual meetings and events to its citizens to allow us to remain engaged during this time.
Before the onset of COVID-19, July 11 was set to be the date of a constitutionally mandated General Council meeting. Given the consistent rise in COVID-19 cases, Catawba Nation leadership sought out creative solutions to allow our Nation to continue conducting business while still maintaining social distancing and keeping our citizens safe. These creative solutions culminated in what would have been the first-ever hybrid General Council meeting, offering both physical and virtual participation options. This plan allowed citizens to choose between physical and virtual participation and decreased the needed capacity for CIN facilities to allow improved social distancing for physical participants. However, given the rapid rise in cases leading up to July 11, the Nation’s healthcare advisors gave very candid guidance that any physical participation options, regardless of social distancing and preventative measures, would not be safe for our citizens. With this guidance, the Executive Committee decided to forgo a General Council convening, and instead hosted a virtual informational meeting.
The virtual informational meeting was a success beyond even what the planning team expected. In total, 88 Catawba citizens participated. Of these, many expressed a sincere gratitude for the improved accessibility that virtual meetings allow. This meeting provided an opportunity for participation to many individuals who would not otherwise be able to participate – including citizens with disabilities, citizens who live far away from the Longhouse, citizens who have to be home to care for child or senior family members, and citizens who can’t find transportation to the Longhouse.
While COVID-19 has presented many challenges, hardships, and tragedies around the world and in our community, every cloud has a silver lining. This particular cloud has forced our Nation to revisit how we support our community in a way that will hopefully lead to long-term improvements in the way we interact with citizens who will still find it difficult to leave home, even after the storm has passed.