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Special Report: Indigenous Communities Hit Hardest by Covid-19

Updated: May 29


Indigenous communities in the United States and around the globe are being disproportionately impacted by the novel coronavirus. And, this impact is underreported by mainstream media, making it difficult for indigenous communities to get the public support necessary to access aid.

Anne Nuorgam, Chair of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, has put forth a call to action to the international community, “We urge Member States and the international community to include the specific needs and priorities of indigenous peoples in addressing the global outbreak of COVID 19.”

To date, the United States government has turned its back on indigenous communities and has failed to follow through on promises of aid. The New York Times reported, “The human and economic toll of the pandemic has been particularly devastating for tribes across the country, which were already struggling with inadequate federal resources and are now among the most vulnerable and hardest hit by the virus. While the stimulus law mandated that $8 billion be provided to tribes by the end of April, tribal leaders say they have yet to receive any of the money.”

The Peace & Conciliation Project, a 501(c)(3) antiracism organization that brings communities together to address and repair the harm of racial injustice, invites you to educate yourself on the extraordinary challenges indigenous communities are facing in the fight to survive the global coronavirus pandemic. We have aggregated important new sources and identified thought leaders for you to follow. Join us in standing in solidarity with indigenous communities and raising our voices to demand proper resources and attention are prioritized for them.

CORONAVIRUS IN NAVAJO NATION


A history of unfulfilled promises between the Navajo Nation and the U.S. government has helped fuel one of the highest coronavirus infection rates in the country among Navajo People. The Navajo Nation imposed extensive lockdown orders, but inadequate infrastructure and lack of access to basic needs like running water is intensifying the crisis. Watch the REVERB Documentary below to learn more about this crisis.


COVID-19 AND INDIGENOUS PEOPLES

The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic poses a grave health threat to Indigenous peoples around the world. Indigenous communities already experience poor access to healthcare, significantly higher rates of communicable and non-communicable diseases, lack of access to essential services, sanitation, and other key preventive measures, such as clean water, soap, disinfectant, etc. Likewise, most nearby local medical facilities, if and when there are any, are often under-equipped and under-staffed. Even when Indigenous peoples are able to access healthcare services, they can face stigma and discrimination. A key factor is to ensure these services and facilities are provided in indigenous languages, and as appropriate to the specific situation of Indigenous peoples. Read more from the United Nations.

Furthermore, writes University of Oregon history professor Jeffrey Ostler in The Atlantic, “Native communities’ vulnerability to epidemics is not a historical accident, but a direct result of oppressive policies and ongoing colonialism.” Read more here about the long history in the United States of systematic neglect of indigenous populations faced with infectious disease outbreaks.

COVID-19’S GROWING IMPACT ON INDIGENOUS COMMUNITIES GLOBALLY 

Although many have argued that “coronavirus doesn’t discriminate,” as a human rights organization, we know that societies do. While the whole world is dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, Indigenous communities are especially at risk due to the inequalities they experience in their home countries. There are over 476 million Indigenous people living in 90 countries, accounting for 6.2 percent of the global population. However, Indigenous Peoples are nearly three times as likely to be living in extreme poverty and are more likely to suffer negative outcomes from infectious diseases. Many Indigenous communities are already impacted by malnutrition, pre-existing conditions, and lack access to quality healthcare. Read more from Cultural Survival.

GROUNDBREAKING REPORT HIGHLIGHTS THE IMPACTS OF COVID-19 ON URBAN AMERICAN INDIAN & ALASKA NATIVE ORGANIZATIONS


The National Urban Indian Family Coalition (NUIFC) released an unprecedented report on the COVID-19 pandemic's impacts on some of the largest American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) communities in the country. The report examines how the pandemic is impacting a majority of AI/AN people (more than 70% live in cities and urban areas). Urban AI/AN communities have experienced decades of underinvestment, generations of forced assimilation, and systems designed to perpetuate generational poverty and disparate outcomes for all quality of life indicators. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic exponentially exacerbates these issues. Without adequate resources and relief, the country’s largest AI/AN communities will see unprecedented levels of socioeconomic decline. Read the full NUIFC report.

NATIVE AMERICANS BEING LEFT OUT OF U.S. CORONAVIRUS DATA AND LABELLED AS "OTHER"

A Guardian analysis found that about 80% of state health departments have released some racial demographic data, which has already revealed stark disparities in the impact of Covid-19 in black and Latinx communities. But of those states, almost half did not explicitly include Native Americans in their breakdowns and instead categorized them under the label “other.” “By including us in the other category it effectively eliminates us in the data,” Abigail Echo-Hawk (Pawnee), director, urban Indian health board and chief research officer, Seattle Indian Health Board, told the Guardian.

In states that do categorize Native Americans in the demographic results, early data indicates dramatically disproportionate rates of infection and death. Last week, the Arizona department of health services reported that Native Americans make up 16% of the state’s Covid-19 related deaths, despite representing only 6% of the state’s population. In New Mexico, Native Americans make up less than 10% of the population but over one-third of coronavirus cases. Read more from The Guardian.

INDIAN HEALTH SERVICE DOCTOR DETAILS HEAVY COVID-19 IMPACT ON NAVAJO NATION

In this short interview, NPR's Mary Louise Kelly talks with Dr. Loretta Christensen, Navajo Area chief medical officer at the Indian Health Service about the disproportionate impact of the coronavirus on Native Americans. Listen to the 4-minute interview or read the transcript.

DOCTORS WITHOUT BORDERS DISPATCHES TEAM TO THE NAVAJO NATION

Doctors Without Borders has dispatched a team of nine to the hard-hit Navajo Nation in the southwest U.S. because of the crisis unfolding there. The team consists of two physicians, three nurse/midwives, a water sanitation specialist, two logisticians and a health promoter who specializes in community health education.

"There are many situations in which we do not intervene in the United States, but this has a particular risk profile," explained Jean Stowell, head of the organization's U.S. COVID-19 Response Team. "Situationally, the Native American communities are at a much higher risk for complications from COVID-19 and also from community spread because they don't have access to the variety of things that make it possible to self-isolate… You can't expect people to isolate if they have to drive 100 miles to get food and water. " 

Navajo Nation, home to roughly 170,000 people, now has more coronavirus cases per capita than any state in America. Read the CBS News article.


FURTHER LEARNING

As in all matter of human rights, the most valuable resource for information and calls to action are the direct voices of the affected group. Below are some groups and individuals whose presence on social media, namely Instagram, are a powerful resource for remaining plugged in to the current realities of native groups that mainstream media may be underreporting upon.

Indigenous Rising


Indigenous Peoples Movement

Indigenous Climate Action

24th Navajo Nation Council


Winona LaDuke – climate change and Indigenous rights activist and grassroots organizer

Rebecca Nagle – Cherokee writer, advocate, and language learner

Autumn Peltier – Chief Water Commissioner for the Anishinabek Nation


A DOSE OF POSITIVE NEWS

Despite the serious challenges facing indigenous populations during this pandemic, exacerbated by profound structural inequalities, there are encouraging gestures that deserve celebrating. The Navajo Nation has experienced a flood of donations from an unlikely source — Ireland. Read more here to learn about the unique history behind this relationship and an illustration of the powerful nature of solidarity among the oppressed.


Peace & Conciliation Project

The Peace & Conciliation Project is a 501(c)(3) antiracism organization that brings communities together to address and repair the harm of racial injustice.

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© 2019 by Peace & Conciliation Project.