Throughout the Covid19 crisis, we have been reminded of the Spanish flu that happened a century ago. History has sadly repeated itself for Native Americans in the US;  the 1918 flu was 4 times more deadly within the tribes, and the current pandemic has been devastating for this community. As of mid-May the per capita infection rate for the Navajo (Diné) nation – located in the 4 corner region of New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, and Colorado – has exceeded that of New York and New Jersey. As of early May, Native Americans have made up 50% of the Covid19 related deaths in New Mexico (home to not only the Navajo tribe, but the Pueblo, Apache, and Zuni, to name a few). The virus has had a negative impact on other reservations and Urban Indians in the US but sadly, many are not counted in racial demographics for Covid19 and labeled as “other.”  Without being counted, it is less likely for these communities to receive relief. 

The reasons behind the stark disparities for Native Americans are multifactorial: 

  • Many tribal communities do not live in the nuclear family structure that a lot of the US lives in. It is common for elders to live with and be cared for by their families. 
  • Further, close quarters and sometimes lack of running water facilitate the spread of SARS-CoV-2 within these households.
  • 1 in 4 Native people live in poverty. 
  • Many reservations exist as food deserts. Inhabitants have more access to convenience stores and fast food than grocery stores with adequate healthy produce. 
  • Inadequate nutrition contributes to the development of chronic disease. Heart disease, cancer, and diabetes are extremely common in Native communities. 
  • Most of the funding the Indian Health Service (IHS) receives goes to medical treatment, with very little left for public health and prevention.  
  • Like other individuals of lower socioeconomic status, most Native Americans do not have jobs that allow them to work from home, heightening the risk of viral exposure and spread. 

“Removing obstacles to healing,” is a common principle of Naturopathic Medicine. It  involves addressing what may be preventing the patient from becoming healthier. With this pandemic, it is clear there are many systemic obstacles that increase the vulnerability of Native people.

COVID-19 is not “the great equalizer”; it urgently requires us to look deeper into the contributing inequities that increase susceptibility to the virus. 

ACTION YOU CAN TAKE:

Actions you can take: Below is a list of programs you can support that help assist Native Americans with healthcare access. 

  • Community Outreach and Patient Empowerment  is a partnership with the Navajo Nation Community Health Representative Outreach program to improve the lives of those living with chronic diseases in Navajo 
  • The COVID-19 Emergency Response Fund is designed to distribute funds efficiently and swiftly to Native nonprofit organizations and tribal programs that need it most. Initially, funds are being prioritized in high-concentration areas – California, New Mexico, the Pacific Northwest, New York, Navajo Nation, Hopi Nation and COVID-19 hotspots. 
  • Native American Community Response Fund (COVID19)  – Liberated Capital supports Indigenous and other people-of-color-led initiatives working for transformative social change. This fund—directed by the Decolonizing Wealth Project —aims to move untethered resources to help shape a future in which we can all heal from generations of colonial trauma and thrive in our cultures.

BLOG POST AUTHOR

Amanda Lucero, ND lives and practices in Salt Lake City, UT. She is a founding member of the Naturopathic Alliance.