Coronavirus Outbreak Threatens Navajo Nation

As of writing this article, there are nearly 1.5 million cases of COVID-19 across the globe. This pandemic has completely uprooted the sense of normality and comfort that most people have been living in, emphasis on most. But for struggling communities and neglected minorities, the effects of the pandemic are seemingly familiar. As of Monday, there were at least 384 confirmed cases and 15 deaths from COVID-19 in the Navajo Nation, according to Al Jazeera. There is now a growing concern for the Navajo community as it is filled with an aging population whose residents are all but cut off from health care facilities and other essential services. Officials are worried that the current pandemic could wipe out most of the indigenous population if federal aid is not received and dispersed quickly enough.

“To know that those dollars allocated and signed into law are supposed to go to all U.S. citizens, but yet the first citizens of this country are being ignored by Washington, D.C.” This frustration, expressed by Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez in an interview with ABC15, has been building up as financial assistance from the federal government is consistently jammed with red tape and paperwork. The Navajo Nation has a notable unsheltered population and only 13 full-service supermarkets, making it incredibly difficult to facilitate resources and maintain safety for the indigenous people. In an interview with Al Jazeera, Denisa Livingston, an organizer with the Dine Community Advocacy Alliance, has said that they are “increasing awareness of traditional food and lifestyle choices,” but that “we have already been experiencing these issues pre-COVID[19]…Now the world is finally experiencing what has been happening in Indian country.”

Of course, the Navajo Nation is not the only community affected by the pandemic, as states like New York, Louisiana, and New Jersey are swarmed with exponentially increasing case numbers and deaths, however it is a community that simply does not have the infrastructure to combat this alone. The federal government is demonstrating time and time again in the midst of this crisis that it is the most unprepared segment of our nation, and communities such as the Navajo are taking the brunt of their negligence. A lack of streamlined communication between government agencies has led to widespread delay and confusion, and bureaucracies of both the Indian Health Service (IHS) and local tribes have created unnecessary hurdles. But beyond the ineptitude of governing bodies, the crisis facing the Navajo Nation is bringing to light an unfortunate issue of their traditional culture: a simple lack of technology. According to NPR, forty percent of the Navajo Nation doesn’t have running water or indoor plumbing, and one in 10 Navajos don’t have electricity. A lack of physical addresses and a rarely used zip code are also causing problems for coronavirus reporting. These sorts of infrastructure challenges can be alleviated through federal aid, but the problem will remain unless the Navajo Nation integrates modern technologies into their culture.

As the number of cases rise and the community braces for the possibility of becoming an epicenter, other familiar problems brew against the Navajo throughout the Mid-West. On Tuesday, a man was arrested for “writing a racist social media post accusing Navajo people of carrying the coronavirus and calling for their deaths,” according to Fox10. This form of ignorance and blatant racism is what propagates hate-crimes and further discrimination against the indigenous community. When this sort of rhetoric is constantly being spewed at a group, it is no surprise that the Navajo Nation is so apprehensive about the federal government and ambivalent regarding federal aid, not to mention a history that is littered with inhumane acts done against their people.

The coronavirus pandemic has altered our fundamental understanding of safety and security, showing us that the gravest threats that face us are those we cannot see, cannot control, and are simply least prepared for. But our nation must not resort to basic utilitarian tactics of preserving the majority over the minorities – this is not a needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few situation. This is about the needs of everyone. Each of us must sacrifice some extent of our personal liberties so that precious communities like the Navajo Nation do not vanish in a matter of weeks. Their community is taking the necessary precautions and federal aid is slowly trickling down, all we can do is hope and wait.