What Indian Country Needs To Fight Coronavirus
Chair Raúl M. Grijalva and Natural Resources Committee Democrats know that the federal government’s coronavirus response is a matter of life and death in Indian Country. Chair Grijalva launched an online resource center when the pandemic started to collect information directly from some of the hardest-hit communities in the country. He’s worked closely with tribal leaders to protect Indian Country from the coronavirus pandemic and hold the Trump administration accountable for its inaction and negligence.
On April 17, Chair Grijalva held an online livestreamed roundtable with Native American leaders in tribal and state governments to hear firsthand how the outbreak is affecting Indian Country.
Here are some of the key insights from that event.
“The $8 billion that was provided specifically in the CARES Act for Native Nations and tribes was an important precedent, but the original request was for $20 billion, from organizations and tribes across the country. There’s more to do but now, we can build on at least the acknowledgment by the federal government of the importance and the necessity to address Indian Country and to provide those resources.” — Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva, Natural Resources Committee Chair
“Part of what I’ve seen [in this pandemic] is tribal consultation — how dysfunctional it is at the federal level, how agencies are either not aware, ignorant, or don’t understand what the federal trust responsibility and the obligation to consultation by the federal government is. CDC, FEMA, Army Corps, the Department of the Interior, BIA, […] are responding across the country to the pandemic, [but] have not utilized and followed the consultation process with tribes.” — Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva, Natural Resources Committee Chair
“[Another thing I’ve seen in this pandemic] is history, and the neglect to Indian Country — the infrastructure, the water, housing, health disparities. [These factors] have all made the responsibility more difficult, more urgent, and more imperative for the [Natural] Resources Committee to continue to be in the leadership role to promote that.” — Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva, Natural Resources Committee Chair
“I lost my brother to COVID-19 just a few weeks ago and it has been one of the things that has driven me to ensure that our Native people — that we are seen, and we are heard, and we are valued.” — Peggy Flanagan, Lt. Governor of Minnesota
“Native people experience significantly higher rates of diabetes, asthma, heart disease, and other underlying health conditions that can turn a viral infection into a death sentence for our people. Since the outbreak of the coronavirus, these circumstances have combined to create the potential for a public health disaster among the most vulnerable folks in our state.” — Peggy Flanagan, Lt. Governor of Minnesota
“The widespread shortage of tests has largely prevented tribes from being able to monitor their members, and in urban areas, Indian health organizations are already running out of money and personal protective equipment.” — Peggy Flanagan, Lt. Governor of Minnesota
“When it comes to COVID-19, we are certainly all in this together and we are hearing news coverage about the impacts in communities across the United States, except in Indian Country, which is why this conversation is so critically important.” — Peggy Flanagan, Lt. Governor of Minnesota
“During good times we [Indian Country] are often erased and forgotten, and so during a time of crisis, I find myself fighting and kicking and screaming and doing everything that I need to do to make sure that our people are seen — that we are not invisible and that we are also not disposable.” — Peggy Flanagan, Lt. Governor of Minnesota
“I am frustrated, and I think many of us on the panel are frustrated too, with seeing the slow pace at which the federal government has worked to get dollars out to Indian Country. There has to be advocacy from the current administration to help get these dollars directly to tribal communities.” — Jonathan Nez, President of the Navajo Nation
“The media has mentioned that Navajo Nation has the third highest infection rate per capita, when comparing our numbers, in our population, with the State of New York and New Jersey.” — Jonathan Nez, President of the Navajo Nation
“New York and New Jersey and many cities throughout the country are getting the aid already — almost immediately. Yet, we’re finally getting some of that financial support this week.” [Note the Navajo National reported its first case on March 17, a month before the roundtable] — Jonathan Nez, President of the Navajo Nation
“Tribal nations are the first citizens of this country, but sometimes we feel that we’re pushed aside and bidding against each other. All these tribal leaders on this panel — we’re all bidding for the finite resources of gloves, masks, gowns, face shields. We’re even bidding against governors. It seems like the person with the most money gets the most resources.” — Jonathan Nez, President of the Navajo Nation
“The 25 percent tribal cost-sharing requirement for FEMA public assistance funds puts an undue burden on many of our pueblos, tribes, and Nations. We do not have the capacity to assume financial responsibility for the full 25 percent of that cost. Before the crisis and certainly not even now, our budget was stressed.” — J. Michael Chavarria, Governor of the Pueblo of Santa Clara, New Mexico
“If our member organizations cannot access the necessary resources to respond to COVID-19, then the systemic response across the state of Alaska will suffer.” — J. Michael Chavarria, Governor of the Pueblo of Santa Clara, New Mexico
“We have incurred tremendous losses due to the closing of our tribal businesses, which has impacted the Pueblo nations. The need for economic relief is tremendous and growing every day.” — J. Michael Chavarria, Governor of the Pueblo of Santa Clara, New Mexico
“One of the challenges that we’re really concerned about is the lack of testing capability. We’re very grateful that the CDC provided us with one of the rapid testing units. However, the Great Plains region as a whole only received 792 test kits. Overall, we anticipate that the Great Plains region will need at least 4,000.” — Jerilyn LeBeau Church, CEO of the Great Plains Tribal Chairmen’s Health Board
“Tribal leaders have been taking response [to Coronavirus] very seriously by closing their borders. They know the impact that [Coronavirus] can have on our population, but that’s been made even more difficult by being in states where governors have not issued shelter-in-place orders.” — Jerilyn LeBeau Church, CEO of the Great Plains Tribal Chairmen’s Health Board
“Many of our hospitals are not equipped to handle more than a few patients. So, I hope that this brings about the awareness that we should not be diminishing services in rural areas, we should not be closing hospitals and turning them into clinics, if anything, we need to go the other direction. I hope, in future packages, that this is remembered so that our tribal governments are not caught off guard again in the midst of a pandemic or any other medical emergency.” — Jerilyn LeBeau Church, CEO of the Great Plains Tribal Chairmen’s Health Board
“There are more than 3,300 homes and 31 [Native] communities throughout Alaska that do not have running water and sanitation infrastructure. This risk factor alone threatens our communities and hits at the heart of one of the core public health measures to combat the coronavirus — washing our hands. We simply can’t do it.” — Diana Zirul, Vice Chairwoman of the Alaska Native Health Board
“It is crucial to understand that many rural Alaska villages do not have running water, reliable internet access, nor easy access to health care facilities and hospitals. We rely on air transportation to receive prescriptions, medical supplies, medical equipment, food, and domestic goods and to transport patients.” — Diana Zirul, Vice Chairwoman of the Alaska Native Health Board
“With the lack of adequate housing, multigenerational housing is common and it is difficult for village residents to maintain social distancing.” — Diana Zirul, Vice Chairwoman of the Alaska Native Health Board
“Due to the COVID-19 crisis, most commercial transportation in Alaska has been grounded and travel must now be arranged by charter services and medevacs. Further exacerbating this challenge, last week, the largest regional air carrier in Alaska filed for bankruptcy, leaving many communities without air service entirely as health services rely primarily upon air or barge transportation.” — Diana Zirul, Vice Chairwoman of the Alaska Native Health Board
“Congress must prioritize these communities in the long term by providing funding to deliver adequate water and sanitation solutions beyond the coronavirus.” — Diana Zirul, Vice Chairwoman of the Alaska Native Health Board
The Natural Resources Committee is collecting information on coronavirus response in Indian Country and is offering regular updates on federal agency initiatives and Congressional action through its online resource center.