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Indigenous peoples among those suffering disproportionate Covid 19 toll

Native Americans look to future amid grim coronavirus numbers

A programme in the Utah Navajo Nation hopes to provide sustainable aid to elders as tribes worry virus could spread.


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Pete Sands and volunteers stand with supplies to be delivered in the Utah section of the Navajo Nation
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(OP: Article is from May 5th, 2020.)

As the Navajo Nation began preparing for the coronavirus pandemic in March, Pete Sands, coordinator of a food delivery programme in the Utah portion of Navajo tribal lands, envisioned the difficulties that were to come.

The majority of the Navajo Nation, an area larger than West Virginia that essentially functions as a reservation, lies in parts of New Mexico and Arizona. A smaller portion of the land is found in Utah and does not receive the same attention as other regions, Sands said.

"A lot of the times, the Utah portion of the Navajo Nation kinda has to fend for itself," Sands told Al Jazeera. "[T]hat's the reason why I started my programme."

Navajo Nation faces unique challenges when it comes to fighting the coronavirus. Extended families often live in the same household; only 13 full-service supermarkets serve about 174,000 residents across 17.5 million acres (7.1 million hectares); and about a third of its residents do not have running water partly due to the United States government not honouring agreements with the tribe.

Sands started working for the Utah Navajo Health System (UNHS), a nonprofit that started in 2000, to offer dental and medical care to rural Navajo communities in the state in February. He started in a public relations role but quickly shifted responsibilities as the crisis grew.

His programme, funded largely by the UNHS but also outside donations, has been at the forefront of the response to the pandemic among Navajo people in Utah.

Sands works with volunteers to make sure staples as food, water, detergent and other needed supplies make it to at-risk people, through a delivery programme aimed at elders on the Utah portion of the Navajo Nation.

"We stocked up, we started working heavily with the rest of the Navajo Nation ... We share everything we get," he said.

They have made about 1,000 home deliveries since the programme started on February 28.

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Navajo pay drastically higher prices for water delivered by trucks
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Sands explained that because the majority of the Utah portion of the Navajo Nation is rural, with elders and other community members living in hard-to-reach areas, he and others aim to provide enough supplies to residents to last through a self-quarantine, or in the case of elders, to stay home until things are safe again.

"A lot of our recipients are elderly, about 80 percent ... but there's young families that have no job. Everyone has a situation, so we try to help everybody," he said.

Grim numbers

Navajo Nation had at least 2,530 confirmed coronavirus cases and 73 known deaths as of Tuesday, according to the Navajo Epidemiology Center. The Navajo Nation has the third-highest infection rate per capita of any region of the US.

Two of those deaths occurred in San Juan County, Utah, where the majority of Utah's Navajo population lives.

Two members of the DeJolie family - Douglas, 58, and his mother Jean, 81 - died in hospitals in late March after contracting the virus, according to local media reports.

San Juan County had total 116 cases as of May 4, with at least 43 of those being among the Navajo population.

Sands said the initial days of the pandemic crisis on the Utah section of the Navajo Nation were difficult, especially after testing increased and so did confirmed cases.

But things are improving, according to Sands.

"We found that this distribution programme, it goes along with the trends of the virus. When it was at its peak, that's when requests for food was at its peak. Now it's levelling out."

Navajo, who call themselves "Dine" in their language, are adapting, Sands said. "I think people have learned to live with the rules, learned how to conserve food."

These rules include extensive lockdowns from the Navajo government that bar movement from 8pm to 5am, the New Mexico government blocking visitors from Gallup, New Mexico, an important city where many Navajo buy supplies but is the hardest hit in the state, among others.

"Living like this is new for everybody. We've had to adjust to it," Sands said.

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Volunteers deliver needed supplies with Pete Sands distribution programme
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'The consequences of invisibility'

While the Navajo Nation is the coronavirus epicentre among Indigenous populations in the US, there are concerns that other tribal nations, which face some of the same systemic issues as the Navajo Nation, could face a similar challenge.

At least 3,600 cases have been confirmed across all tribal nations, according to the Indian Health Service (IHS), the federal programme which administers healthcare for Indigenous people in the US.

Crystal Echo Hawk, founder and CEO of IllumiNative, a Native-led nonprofit that aims to increase the visibility of Native peoples in American society by changing the national narrative, said she fears the number of cases may be higher.

Many Native Americans live in cities, and the IHS and other federal programmes, which have to deal with state and local bureaucracies, do not have adequate infrastructure to count these cases.

For example, there are no comprehensive studies that provide the number of unsheltered Indigenous people across the US, though they account for a disproportionate amount of unsheltered people in so-called "border towns", such as Gallup and Flagstaff, Arizona, among others.

"It's the consequences of invisibility," Echo Hawk said.

IllumiNative has tried to address the coronavirus pandemic across tribal nations, through its Warrior Up campaign, which encourages people to "Stay Away, Together", through a public service announcement featuring prominent Indigenous and non-Indigenous celebrities.

IllumiNative also helped organise a digital town hall to discuss the effects of coronavirus on Native communities last month.

For Echo Hawk, the needs of Native communities exacerbated by the crisis expose underlying systemic issues.

"When we look at this, it's hundreds of years of systemic racism, chronic underfunding and discrimination at federal and state levels that have really created limited access to healthcare and other basic necessities," she said in a release delivered to Al Jazeera after the event.

Monetary needs

Congress allocated $8bn for tribes under its $2.2 trillion CARES Act passed in March. But many Indigenous groups have been critical of the delay in the disbursement of the funds. The funds were stalled in part due to legal challenges over who was entitled to the aid.

A group of tribes subsequently sued the Treasury Department for not releasing the funds by the end of April as legally mandated by the CARES Act.

In advance of a scheduled visit by US President Donald Trump to Arizona on Tuesday, the US Treasury announced it would begin releasing $4.8bn of the funding to Native American tribal governments. The rest, the Treasury said, would be released at a later date. Litigation over who is entitled to the funds continues, though courts have initially ruled in favour of the tribes.

Trump's visit is set to feature Senator Martha McSally, a Republican up for re-election this year and trailing her Democratic challenger Mark Kelly in some polls.

McSally has made her efforts to address the coronavirus crisis on tribal lands a prominent feature of her re-election campaign.



Back on the Navajo Nation in Utah, Sands said the lack of federal funds was noticeable, but the situation there improved "last week".

Though his programme is currently financially sound, thanks in part to the UNHS funds and donations that keep "piling up", Sands knows the pandemic will continue and money will eventually run out. But he will keep fundraising throughout the region.

"I have a plan in place to keep the programme going as long as it can. Eventually, the money's going to dry out. Food costs a lot. Transport costs a lot. It's not cheap," Sands concluded.

SOURCE 1.

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OP: Things are pretty similar with Canada's treatment of indigenous peoples... Article is from May 12th, 2020.

Over 450 Indigenous COVID-19 cases across Canada and 7 deaths, reports Yellowhead Institute

Indigenous Services Canada's COVID-19 case count failing to reflect true picture, says report


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A highway checkpoint at Green Lake, [Canadian province of] Sask., in late April. There are travel restrictions to and within northern Saskatchewan due to COVID-19.
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There are at least 465 Indigenous COVID-19 cases across 42 communities and seven virus-related deaths, far above what is reported by Indigenous Services Canada (ISC), according to a report released Tuesday by the Yellowhead Institute.

A team of researchers supported by the Yellowhead Institute compiled the numbers by combing through media reports, band council updates to members, confidential local reports and obituaries.

"ISC continues to release numbers that don't provide the whole picture," said the Yellowhead Institute report.

"By only reporting what is happening on-reserve, the realities of Indigenous Peoples are erased. Indigenous Peoples do not only live on-reserve, nor do they live in 'distinction-based' silos in urban and rural places."

The Yellowhead Institute is a think-tank based out of Ryerson University's Faculty of Arts.

ISC has reported there were 183 COVID-19 cases on-reserve in five provinces, 18 hospitalizations and two deaths as of May 11.

ISC, which has admitted it has a data gap, reports only on-reserve COVID-19 cases and it relies on information either voluntarily provided by First Nations or from provincial and territorial health authorities.

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Courtney Skye started tracking COVID-19 data in Indigenous communities last month.
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Courtney Skye, a research fellow at the institute and author of the report, said the institute's numbers are based on compiling on and off-reserve First Nations, Inuit and Métis COVID-19 cases.

"This is just the information available publicly," said Skye.

"There are likely more cases."

'Patchwork of service'

The report said Indigenous people are subject to a patchwork of services and ongoing jurisdictional battles between Ottawa and the provinces that undermines data on the true impact of COVID-19 on Indigenous Peoples and communities, said the report.

"There is no agency or organization in Canada reliably recording and releasing COVID-19 data that indicates whether or not a person is Indigenous," said the report.

"This patchwork of service is a direct result of colonialism . . . The jurisdictional fight between provinces and the federal government, where both claim the other is responsible for services, more often than not leaves Indigenous people without any services."

Separately, CBC News has obtained numbers from the First Nations Health Authority (FNHA) in British Columbia that shows it is keeping track of off-reserve cases.

The FNHA provides health services to First Nations people in British Columbia under a tripartite agreement with B.C. [Canadian province of British Columbia] and Ottawa [i.e., Canadian capital and center for the Canadian federal government].

A May 7 report from the FNHA, said that as of May 4 there were a total of 69 First Nations COVID-19 cases in B.C. — 37 in or near a community and 32 off-reserve.

ISC's B.C. tally for that day matched the FNHA's in-community tally, but excluded the off-reserve numbers.

The Yellowhead report said another example of the data gap exists in Saskatchewan, where the department reported 43 COVID-19 cases on reserve as of May 11.

The report notes there is a serious outbreak in the northern Saskatchewan community of La Loche. On Monday, the province reported 151 active COVID-19 cases in its Far North region, the majority of which are in the village and neighbouring Clearwater River Dene Nation.

"La Loche, often identified as a Dene community with reserves nearby, provides a glimpse into how taking a distinction-based approach is impractical when First Nations and Métis communities are so interconnected," said the report.

"It is presumed that all … cases in La Loche are Indigenous people as the majority of the people in the community are Dene and Métis. Additionally, Saskatchewan is the only province with COVID-19 cases reported in Métis communities."

Another gap exists in Ontario, the report said, where the Chiefs of Ontario organization is reporting a total of 79 cases, 44 on-reserve and 35 off reserve, as of May 12.

On May 11, ISC reported 41 on-reserve cases in Ontario.

'Jurisdictional web'

Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller said he knows his department's data is only partial as a result of jurisdictional challenges.

"What you get is a jurisdictional web that is difficult to navigate on a good day," said Miller.

He said ISC knows how many COVID-19 test kits are made available to First Nations, Inuit, and Métis communities. It also receives information from First Nations that choose to report their numbers to the federal department.

"We will not report on a community that has chosen not to report its data, and it's out of respect," said Miller.

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Minister of Indigenous Services Marc Miller speaks at a press conference on COVID-19 at West Block on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Wed. March 25, 2020.
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Miller said the department has a less reliable grip on how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted Métis communities and First Nations populations off-reserve.

For that, he said, they rely almost exclusively on data that would be reported to ISC by the provinces based on their gathering of data that has broad ethno-cultural identifiers — and that don't always get filled out.

"We communicate regularly with provinces and tell them the importance of having that data collection point with respect to ethno-cultural identifiers. It's critical to getting a sense of how this epidemic is impacting and how we deal with it in the immediate term," said Miller.

[The Canadian province of] Quebec, for example, has an ethnocultural identifier used on testing forms that allows someone getting tested to self-identify as First Nations, Inuit, or living in a remote area that does not have access to a hospital.

[The Canadian province of] Ontario has a box to check if you are First Nations, Inuit or Métis.

"I think we all could do more," said Miller.

"Right now the data on Indigenous populations across Canada is partial, and the reflection of a divide that exists on-reserve and off-reserve but also with the various jurisdictional distinctions that exist in Canada."

SOURCE 2.
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OP: As of late April, Native Americans were also frequently being left out of coronavirus data counts in the U.S..

Native Americans being left out of US coronavirus data and labelled as 'other'

Misclassification raises fears of hidden health emergencies in one of the country’s most vulnerable populations


Native Americans are being left out of demographic data on the impact of the coronavirus across the US, raising fears of hidden health emergencies in one of the country’s most vulnerable populations.

A Guardian analysis found that about 80% of state health departments have released some racial demographic data, which has already revealed stark disparities in the impact of Covid-19 in black and Latinx communities. But of those states, almost half did not explicitly include Native Americans in their breakdowns and instead categorized them under the label “other”.

“By including us in the other category it effectively eliminates us in the data,” Abigail Echo-Hawk (Pawnee), director, urban Indian health board and chief research officer, Seattle Indian Health Board, told the Guardian.

In states that do categorize Native Americans in the demographic results, early data indicates dramatically disproportionate rates of infection and death. Last week, the Arizona department of health services reported that Native Americans make up 16% of the state’s Covid-19 related deaths, despite representing only 6% of the state’s population. In New Mexico, Native Americans make up less than 10% of the population but over one-third of coronavirus cases.

This week, the health authority for the Navajo Nation, which includes areas of Arizona, Utah and New Mexico, reported 1,197 positive coronavirus cases and 44 deaths. If it were a state, it would rank third in the country for confirmed cases per 100,000 population, behind only New York and New Jersey (though the nation is also testing at a far higher rate than most states).

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In states that do categorize Native Americans in the demographic results, early data indicates dramatically disproportionate rates of infection and death.
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Communities of color are not more susceptible to coronavirus, but because of years of unequal access to healthcare, clean water and nutritious food, they are at greater risk of developing complications. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Native Americans experience diabetes three times more than any other racial or ethnic group in the United States, and have the highest rates of asthma. Before the pandemic, the federal health system serving Native Americans was already chronically underfunded.

The Guardian found health departments did not include Native Americans in their racial demographic data even in areas with high numbers of Native residents. The majority of Native Americans live in urban areas, with the highest populations in New York City and Los Angeles. But neither explicitly include Native Americans in the breakdowns of their Covid-19 data.

The NYC department of health and mental hygiene did not respond to the Guardian’s request for comment. The Los Angeles county department of public health said it was “looking into getting more accurate information on the race/ethnicity field” and hoped to provide “more meaningful reports on this in the future”.

(OP: Article has been truncated in order to keep this post at a manageable length but is at the SOURCE.)

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-My previous post on the disproportionate effect of the pandemic on Black and Hispanic communities is here.

-Indigenous communities in Canada also suffered disproportionately from the H1N1 pandemic of 2009. "A particularly concerning occurrence was the spread of pH1N1 2009 into First Nations communities in Canada. Although Aboriginal peoples constitute only 3.8% of Canada’s population, members of the First Nations were 6.5 times more likely to be admitted to an ICU with pH1N1 2009 influenza than non-First Nations, and had rates of hospitalization nearly triple that of the national cumulative crude rate for all Canadians." (From this reference.)
Tags: *trigger warning: racism, change we can believe in, first nations, genocide, medicine, native americans, race / racism, science, science does not work that way
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