The number of positive tests for COVID-19 has reached a total of 26 for residents of the Navajo Nation. That anecdote merely paints a picture of the escalating situation countrywide, and how all Tribal Nations are severely impacted.
Tribal economies are taking a significant financial hit — from casino closures to oil and gas Tribes affected by falling prices. Meanwhile Tribal health care systems (already underfunded) are strained. Needless to say, Tribal governments have their work cut out for them.
Various organizations virtually convened Friday to discuss what Tribal governments need to cope with the urgent demands amid the COVID-19 crisis. Among the stakeholders were representatives of the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI), the National Indian Health Board, the Native American Finance Officers Association, the National Indian Child Welfare Association and the National Indian Education Association.
Some key takeaways:
- NCAI CEO Kevin Allis (Forest County Potawatomi Community) articulated that given the prevalence of heart and respiratory disease among Native Americans, the population faces a heightened risk of contracting COVID-19, and a potentially higher mortality rate from the coronovarius than the general population.
- That is exacerbated by overcrowding on Tribal reservations, coupled with the remoteness of many Tribal land bases, and the vast distances required for travel to obtain food and other essentials. “This is a serious situation that could have devastating effects on Indian Country,” Allis underscored.
- Not only is the $40 million targeted for Tribes in the federal $8.3 billion stimulus bill insufficient, the funds haven’t reached Tribes yet. According to Stacy Bohlen (Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians), executive director of the National Indian Health Board, the delay in that emergency aid has left Tribal leaders aggravated and poorly equipped to respond. She also argued that the IHS needs access to medical equipment from the Strategic National Stockpile.
- In coming days, the IHS will provide more information on how to access the resources made available through the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which includes $64 million for Tribes for COVID-19 testing.