One year later: Covid-19 has been devastating for the Indian country


As Covid-19 began to spread across the United States, the first documented case in the Indian country was among Confederate tribes on the Umatilla Indian Reservation in Pendleton, Oregon on March 2, 2020. The tribes announced that day a member of the staff at the Wildhorse Resort & Casino tested positive for coronavirus. The next day, the tribes announced that their casino would be temporarily closed.

Since then, the deadly virus has spread throughout the Indian country with lethal force.

Tribal gambling casinos have voluntarily closed their doors “out of caution” to protect their staff, customers and tribal communities. A Michigan tribal leader told me that his casino management had been working all weekend to come up with a plan to shut the casino down smoothly. In operation since 1998, the casino had never closed before Covid-19. Some tribal casinos have had to install locks on their doors as there had never been a need to lock them before Covid-19.

The voluntary closures of tribal casinos have resulted in lost revenue of more than $ 10 billion, leading to a reduction in tribal services to tribal citizens. The tribes provide services such as health care, programs for the elderly, education, housing, among others.

Over the year, cases of Covid-19 in the Indian country have increased, devastating tribal communities.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Native American / Native Alaskan (AI / AN) communities lost at least 5,307 lives to Covid-19 in mid-February.

The Color of Coronavirus project, which hired a team from the APM research lab to compile statistics on deaths by race, estimates that over a four-week period in February, there were 958 deaths in the country. Indian. These numbers have so far represented the deadliest part of the pandemic for the Indian country.

In all 50 states and including the District of Columbia, the Indian country has the highest Covid-19 death rate among all races.

The breakdown between races tells the story:

  • 1 in 390 Native Americans have died (or 256.0 deaths per 100,000)
  • 1 in 555 black Americans have died (or 179.8 deaths per 100,000)
  • 1 in 565 Pacific Islander Americans has died (or 176.6 deaths per 100,000)
  • 1 in 665 White Americans have died (or 150.2 deaths per 100,000)
  • 1 in 680 Latin Americans has died (or 147.3 deaths per 100,000)
  • 1 in 1,040 Asian Americans died (or 96.0 deaths per 100,000)

Joseph Stalin told the Washington Post in January 1947: “If one man dies of hunger, it is a tragedy. If millions of people die, these are just statistics.

With 524,000 deaths nationwide on Saturday, the death toll from the pandemic has increased at such a rate that we have become oblivious to daily death reports.

Statistics from the Color of Coronavirus project evoke strong emotions associated with the high death rate among Indigenous people. In conversations with people across the Indian country, when measuring the human toll, the numbers alone don’t tell the whole story.

I don’t remember an Indigenous person in the past few months telling me that he didn’t know anyone who had died from Covid-19. All of us in Indian country know someone we will never see again at a powwow, tribal community event, or national conference.

Across the Indian country, the impact of these deaths has been significant. Every death has an impact on the lives of families, friends and tribal communities. The Cherokee Nation reports that dozens of common Cherokee languages ​​have died from Covid-19. Dozens of indigenous elders who serve as custodians of tribal history, traditions and customs have died. With their death, part of the indigenous culture dies with them.

In the Indian country, the epicenter of the coronavirus has been the Navajo Nation. As of Saturday, there had been 29,857 confirmed positive cases of Covid-19, resulting in 1,198 deaths.

“Despite all the adversities, challenges and uncertainties we have experienced over the past year, our Navajo people and frontline warriors continue to show their determination, resilience and faith,” said President of the Navajo Nation, Jonathan Nez. “Our healthcare workers are working hard to put vaccines in the arms of our people to help save lives.”

The Covid-19 death rate in the Indian country shows that the most vulnerable suffer the most during a crisis. Living conditions on Indian reservations are comparable to living conditions in the Third World, with poor housing, lack of running water, poor roads, and lack of efficient broadband. All of these factors contributed to the deaths of Aboriginal people.

From the early days of the pandemic, the CDC advised washing your hands frequently for 20 seconds. One-third of the people of the Navajo Nation do not have running water. Obviously, they don’t have 20 seconds of water – or the half gallon of water flowing from a bathroom faucet – to wash their hands.

A year later, the news is positive. The vaccinations take place in the Indian country. Vaccines save lives. The US Senate passed the American Rescue Plan Act on Saturday, which allocates $ 31.2 billion to the Indian country, which is good news for the natives. The bill is expected to return to the House on Tuesday, and it is likely to be approved and then forwarded to President Biden for his signature.

A year later, we must continue to exercise caution and pray as tribal nations prove once again, as they have throughout history, their resilience in the face of adversity.

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About the Author

Levi Rickert

Author: Levi Rickert

Levi Rickert (Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation) is the founder, publisher and editor of Native News Online. He can be contacted at [email protected]



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