By Rosemary Ponnekanti
Puyallup Tribal News Correspondent


It’s not everyone who has 2,000 COVID-19 masks and nearly 400 face shields stashed in their garage.


Michael Sisson, Puyallup Tribal Veterans Representative, received the KN95 masks in late May after they’d been donated to the tribe by the Republic of South Korea for veterans’ use. Tribal Council recently approved the masks and face shields to be mailed to each Tribal veteran.


The story began in early May, when Sisson was contacted by the National Native American Veterans Association in Washington, D.C., asking how many veterans the Puyallup Tribe had. Sisson told them, and the masks were soon delivered in boxes. He stored them in his garage, along with many other veteran-related items, until Council approval was given in September for the distribution. The Tribe serves about 65 veterans, Sisson said.


The masks are part of a larger donation. Ten thousand masks were donated by South Korea on the 70th anniversary of the Korean War’s beginning to Native Americans who had served, reported the Yonhap News Agency in May.


“The government remembers those who made noble sacrifices to defend a strange country 70 years ago, and we hope they will proudly tell their posterity about the choice they made so many years ago,” committee co-chairman Kim Eun-gi said in the article.


While the article only mentions Navajo veterans, of whom 130 still survive of the 800 who fought in the 1950-1953 war, the Puyallup Tribe also benefitted from the donation.


Just why, however, remains a mystery. Out of all 29 tribes in the Joint American Indian Veterans Advisory Council, the Puyallup Tribe was the only one to receive the masks, Sisson said.


“I don’t know how they heard of us, but I’m grateful,” he added. “It could have something to do with the fact that we just made a big contribution to the new National Native American Veterans Memorial in D.C.”


The memorial, a sculpture by Harvey Pratt to honor the service of Native Americans, will be dedicated virtually on Nov. 11 at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian. Sisson attended the memorial’s groundbreaking last year.


Meanwhile, Puyallup veterans will soon benefit from the extra protection the medical-quality masks offer against COVID-19.


“It’s a really good thing to keep them healthy,” Sisson said.


Photo courtesy of Puyallup Tribal Member and Veterans Representative Michael Sisson