COVID-19 in Native American Communities–Daily Digest for 27 April 2020

We are in our seventh week of shut-down, I think. It feels like we have been indoors for a long time. On a walk in a state park Saturday on a beautiful spring day, I saw too many hikers choosing not to keep their distance from others, choosing not to wear masks. It may be a burden, but please, help flatten the curve and stop the spread of Coronavirus. There are so many stories of grief and mourning. Let’s not add to them.

To get a sense of the human cost of this epidemic on the Navajo Nation, I encourage you to follow Arlyssa Becenti, a journalist working this story. She is posting on her Twitter feed GoFundMe calls for funeral expenses for Indigenous peoples felled by the pandemic. Yesterday Becenti reported in the Navajo Times that “the total number of positive COVID-19 cases for the Navajo Nation has reached 1716,” and the “total deaths remain at 59.” She is a fantastic reporter who you need to follow if you want to understand this story. An essay by Heather Covich in the New England Journal of Medicine is also useful for giving some perspective on this devastating crisis. Meanwhile, Face shields manufactured in Massachusetts are being carried by private plane to the Navajo Nation, to help address the desperate need for personal protective equipment. Calls for donations and assistance are being answered from many sectors, but more help is needed still.

Much of the media attention has focused on Navajo Nation, but other Native American communities are suffering from the pandemic, and in these states, many have complaints about how their governors are choosing to address the crisis. I wrote about affairs in Nebraska last week. In South Dakota, Julian Bear Runner, President of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, called upon the state’s governor Kristi Noem to take more decisive action. “It makes no sense to put people at risk because you feel most people have common sense. That is an oversimplification of this disease.” Bear Runner pointed out that “things could not be more urgent for South Dakota’s tribal nations.” Case Iron Eye, from the Lakota People’s Law Project, has written in an email campaign that Governor Noem’s “refusal to act is governmental negligence,” and that “for our communities, the elderly, and the immunocompromised,” the Governor is costing lives. “We need as many people as possible, right now,” Iron Eye wrote, “to help us wake her up.”

In Canada, the Gull Bay First Nation will open a COVID19 facility to help the community contend with the outbreak. In Australia the national government is planning to roll out remote testing for COVID-19 for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people living in remote areas. The 83 testing sites should be operating by the middle of next month.

There is a great deal of news on when and how to reopen and restore the American economy. On the ongoing saga of the $8 billion in funding designated for Native American communities recently by Congress, a federal judge is expected to issue a decision in the case today. In other news related to the economic fallout from the coronavirus-induced shutdown, the Small Business Administration “on Friday confirmed that small Indian gaming operations qualify for loans through the Paycheck Protection Program.” The announcement resulted from bipartisan pressure on the Trump Administration to clarify program guidelines. As for reopening, the Governor of Acoma Pueblo, Brian Vallo, urged the governor of New Mexico to take any measures necessary to prevent small businesses in Grants, New Mexico, from reopening. The town’s mayor. “Modey” Hicks, “has encouraged small businesses to reopen next week and has implored fellow mayors to do the same.” He is doing so in the face of opposition from the governor and the Pueblos.

Of course this is a global pandemic, affecting indigenous peoples around the globe. According to a story carried by Reuters, “Indigenous tribes in Peru’s Amazon say the government has left them to fend for themselves against the coronavirus, risking ‘ethnocide by inaction,’ according to a letter from natives to the United Nations and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.” The Saturday Paper carried a story by Amy McQuire showing how, “despite being chronically underfunded, the Aboriginal community-controlled health sector has reacted swiftly and effectively to the Covid-19 outbreak, underscoring the importance of their services.”

Stay safe, everyone. And please feel free to share this information with your friends and colleagues.

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