Indigenous Peoples and Human Rights

April 17, 2020

Indian Country Responds in Virtual Roundtable: Frustration and Survival in the Age of Coronavirus

Virtual Roundtable today before House Natural Resources Committee exposes the need for funding, as well as the need for masks, test kits, and the ongoing struggle for water and sanitation services throughout Indian country

Article by Brenda Norrell
Censored News

WASHINGTON -- Indian country leaders pressed for equitable distribution of federal funding, and expressed the need for more test kits, masks and supplies, as coronavirus cases continue to increase, during a Virtual Roundtable today hosted by the House Natural Resources Committee. The lack of running water and sanitation services adds to the struggle for Native People, from the Southwest to Alaska, Native leaders said.

Santa Clara Pueblo Gov. Michael Chavarria began the Virtual Roundtable and spoke on the inherent sovereignty of Indian Nations. Gov. Chavarria described the federal trust responsibilities and pressed for the National Disaster Recovery Framework. He said all types of Native businesses need to be eligible for federal funding.

Gov. Chavarria serves as Chairman of the All Pueblo Council of Governors of 19 Pueblos in New Mexico and Texas.

Gov. Chavarria thanked Pojoaque Pueblo, which has volunteered the use of its Hilton Santa Fe Thunder Buffalo Resort as a temporary quarantine site for New Mexico tribal members awaiting coronavirus test results.

Gov. Chavarria said the elders told of this time when the world would be out of balance.

The elders told of this time when "our people would be disconnected from their values and from one another," and would have disrespect for one another and have disrespect for water. The drilling for oil and gas and minerals would disturb Mother Earth, and people would engage in war for selfish reasons. He said the elders saw this time that would come and its harmful impacts.

"We have resiliency to see this through, this crisis," he said, adding that there would be long term effects on Pueblo communities.

Gov. Chavarria also described the tremendous economic impact of the coronavirus on the Pueblos and the loss of revenues.

Congressman and Chair Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., hosted the Virtual Roundtable, which includes Peggy Flanagan, Lt. Gov. of White Band of Ojibwe, Minnesota; Jonathan Nez, President of the Navajo Nation, which currently reports the highest per capita infection rate outside of New York and New Jersey; Michael Chavarria, Governor of the Pueblo of Santa Clara, New Mexico; Jerilyn Church, chief executive officer of the Great Plains Tribal Chairmen’s Health Board and Diana Zirul, vice chairwoman of the Alaska Native Health Board.

Jerilyn Church, chief executive officer of the Great Plains Tribal Chairmen's Health Board, said Fort Berthold, the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation in North Dakota, is now a hot spot for coronavirus cases.

The lack of test kits continues to be a problem, especially in Rapid City in South Dakota.  Oyate Health Center in Rapid City only received 24 test kits.

In the Great Plains, it is anticipated that there will be a need for  4,000 test kits. Church praised tribal leaders who have closed their borders to protect the people in the Great Plains.
White Earth Band of Ojibwe in Minnesota Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan recently lost her brother to coronavirus. Flanagan said unemployment was already at a crisis level before the pandemic.

Diabetes, asthma and heart disease are at high rates, and this means Ojibwe are at high risk. She said business shutdowns have not just hurt Ojibwe but surrounding communities, because residents depend on jobs.

The school closures and lack of housing contribute to the ongoing problems. She said she wants to make sure her people are not considered invisible and disposable.

Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez said the warriors on the frontline are once again fighting a monster.

"Our warriors are on the front lines once again, battling and fighting a monster called COVID-19," Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez said.

"A couple of weeks ago, it was stated that COVID-19 would wipe us all out," Nez said. "I want to tell everyone that native people are resilient. We are overcomers and we will get through this together."

President Nez said Navajos had survived the Long Walk, various plagues and the hantavirus, and will survive this coronavirus.

President Nez described how difficult it is to get federal funding and the slow pace of the U.S. government.

"We are the First Citizens of this country. To be ignored during this time is insulting to all of us." He said federal dollars should not be going to federal for-profit corporations, and should instead go directly to the tribal communities who need them most.

"The Navajo Nation is a hot spot."

Now there are 1,042 cases on the Navajo Nation. In 24 hours, between Wednesday and Thursday, there were 121 new cases. He said more than 3,000 Dine' have tested negative.

But, 41 Dine' have died from this virus.

President Nez saids there is still a need for more test kits and testing supplies.

Currently, 57 percent of all coronavirus cases within the Indian Health Service are on the Navajo Nation. The federal funding, however, does not reflect this and it is not meeting the needs.

President Nez described the curfew, shopping hours, no contact food deliveries and thanked non-Natives for helping with food deliveries and services.

"Sometimes we feel we are pushed aside and bidding against each other," he said of the tribal leaders and the struggle for masks and supplies.

"It seems like the person with the most money gets the resources." 

Currently 15 to 30 percent of Navajos do not have running water.

People can not afford to use water to wash their hands as needed, because water is also needed for drinking, livestock and other needs. 

"We are a strong resilient people and we will get through this together."

President Nez said he is now in quarantine following contact with a person who tested positive for coronavirus.

President Nez said there are now high numbers of Navajos going to town since receiving stimulus checks, which goes against what the Navajo Nation is saying, which is to stay at home.

"There is a spread within our people in Gallup now," he said, of Navajos on the streets in the New Mexico bordertown.

Diana Zirul, Kenaitze Indian Tribe, vice chair of the Alaska Native Health Board, described the problems faced by Alaskan communities. Heart disease, renal disease and other diseases make the people vulnerable to coronavirus. She said the 1918 flu epidemic wiped out many Alaska Native communities. She said Congress must authorize funding for water and sanitation services beyond the coronavirus. The cost of air travel adds to the cost of serving Native communities in Alaska. She said broadband services must be expanded to meet the current health needs and provide communications for families.

The House Natural Resources Committee Democrats said, "We’re fighting to ensure that Native Americans have the health care and economic support they need, both during and after the coronavirus pandemic. Resources for #CoronavirusIndianCountry have been severely lacking for too long, and it’s costing lives. We’re hosting a live roundtable now with Chair Raul M. Grijalva and tribal panelists to hear firsthand how the #Coronavirus is affecting Indian Country."

The New Mexico website shows coronavirus cases by zipcode, with 58 cases in Shiprock and 11 cases in Tohatchi on the Navajo Nation.
The Gallup, Tse Bonito, Gamerco zipcode has 42 cases.
In the Pueblos, it shows 19 cases in Zuni Pueblo. One zipcode in Sandoval County which includes Zia Pueblo, San Isidro and San Luis, has 82 cases.
There are zero cases shown for the Jicarilla Apache zipcode.
In San Juan County, where Shiprock is located, there are 243 cases. There have been 14 deaths in the county.

In related news today, Service Employees International Union, said more than 9,000 health care heroes have contracted coronavirus in hospitals and emergency rooms.

Article copyright Brenda Norrell, Censored News

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