The coronavirus pandemic has ravaged across the nation, creating new health concerns, affecting our daily lives, hurting the economy, and more. It has also highlighted the disparities among minority communities, namely endured by indigenous populations. Historically, indigenous people have been subjected to viral epidemics, and it’s happening again with the COVID-19 outbreak.
Emerging evidence has shown that Native American people are facing a disproportionate brunt of the pandemic. It’s important to understand how the disease is affecting these communities to mitigate the damage.
Higher Risk of Infection and Increased Mortality Rates
When the outbreak first began growing in the United States, the epicenter of the pandemic was in New York. At the time of this writing, the Navajo Nation's infection rate has surpassed the state with 2,860 cases per 100,000 people compared with 1,890 in New York.
Indigenous individuals are known to have higher rates of asthma, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. It’s also known that the ones most vulnerable to the coronavirus are the elderly and those with specific preexisting health conditions. Because of these underlying health issues, the death rate is much higher than for those outside these communities.
Inequities in Infrastructure
According to the CDC’s best safety practices, people should be washing their hands thoroughly and often as a measure to prevent contracting the infection. However, American Indian individuals are more likely to lack access to clean water and plumbing.
Approximately 30% of homes on the Navajo reservation, which has roughly 175,000 residents, don’t have access to clean drinking water. Many have to haul it from local utilities, which is no small task, especially with curfew orders to diminish the coronavirus spread. This has made it harder for residents to practice frequent hand washing.
Moreover, it is common for families to live in multigenerational households on reservations, making self-quarantine a tremendous challenge. If one person were to catch the virus, it could decimate an entire family.
Lack of Access to Proper Healthcare
There are barriers to healthcare that make it challenging to obtain coronavirus testing and treatment services. The American Indian health system is severely understaffed, underfunded, and lacks sufficient protective equipment. Although the US government has an obligation to provide healthcare to all Native Americans, only one-third of the designated spending has been supplied.
Medical staff on reservations across the United States are facing the same issues happening nationally. Still, for them, it's compounded by patients living in poor conditions and isolated from healthcare centers.
Increased Financial Challenges
Over the past few decades, Native Americans have built much of their economy on casinos, resort tourism, and other tribal operations. With stay-at-home orders in place, these enterprises have had to close down, meaning tribes have lost critical revenue sources.
Delays in Federal Relief Funds
As part of the CARES Act, $8 billion in funding was set aside for tribal governments. It was intended to help provide food, protective equipment, maintain payrolls, and more. However, tribal leaders had yet to receive it in April.
In May, a group of Native American tribes sued the Treasury Department for failing to provide the billions of dollars in coronavirus relief. The delay stems in part from a dispute within the native populations, which are feuding over who is entitled to the aid. On one side, there are the Alaska Native corporations, which are for-profit businesses that serve tribal villages in Alaska. On the other hand, the federally recognized tribes in the lower 48 states argue the corporations should not be eligible for the relief.
Litigation is still ongoing, but a judge has ruled in favor of tribal governments, and the Treasury released 60% of the funds. However, this delay has already caused further loss within the communities.
We’re Here to Help
These have been challenging times, especially for tribal communities. If you require legal representation, we are here to help. At Circling Eagle Law, we are intimately familiar with Federal Indian Laws and can navigate through its complexities.
Call the tribal law attorneys at Circling Eagle Law today at (701) 401-7404.