American Indians and Alaska Natives remain the most impoverished and marginalized group in the United States.
Indian tribes have fewer resources than other communities in the U.S. to respond to the crisis. Many Native Americans lack basic access to water, indoor plumbing and adequate housing. Overcrowded housing and homelessness make social distancing difficult, and isolation impossible, for some.
Others do not have access to adequate health care services near their homes on tribal lands. The federally funded Indian Health Service provides health care to over 2.5 million American Indians and Alaska Natives, more than a quarter of whom do not have health insurance.
Native populations also suffer from diabetes, asthma and other chronic illnesses at a higher rate than the U.S. population generally. These health disparities place many American Indians and Alaska Natives at a higher risk to get COVID-19, and have more severe cases of it. An inadequate response to containing the virus may lead to deadly results for many American Indians and Alaska Natives.
STAY HOME, STAY SAFE, SAVE LIVES 03.25.20
This graph shows the increase in COVID-19 cases since the first case was...
The Indian Health Service has faced chronic underfunding by Congress since its inception in 1955. Many have criticized the Indian Health Service for poor medical care, high staff turnover and untrained staff.
Like other health facilities, the ones run by the Indian Health Service are short on ventilators, coronavirus tests and personal protective gear for health care providers. Less than half of tribal leaders and health care providers have indicated that they have the capacity to isolate suspected coronavirus patients.
Even if tests and basic medical supplies were available, Indian nations lack the capacity to track the virusand slow its spread. The 12 regional tribal epidemiology centers do not have the relationships necessary with tribal and state health departments to share information about prevalence or mortality rates.
MEDICAL SUPPLIES FOR FIRST RESPONDERS 03.24.20
The Navajo Nation received its first shipment of face shields yesterday, which also included surgical gowns, blankets, gloves, and other medical supplies and equipment that will help protect health care workers and other first responders as they take in patients and treat them.
The supplies are on their way to the health care facilities tonight. More supplies will continue to be delivered as first responders continue to fight COVID-19 on the frontlines. Let’s continue to pray for everyone. Ahe’hee’
The pandemic has further compromised Indian nations’ resources because tribal leaders have chosen to close businesses – resorts, retail stores, entertainment venues and casinos – to protect the public.
For Indian nations, this means more than lost profits. The money those businesses make pays for tribal programs and services. Without this money, tribal governments can’t take care of their people.
Despite these challenges, tribal leaders are taking action to protect Native people.
Over 50 tribes have declared emergencies, more than 40 have imposed travel restrictions, dozens are trying to close their borders to slow the spread of the disease, and others have translated information about the virus into their native languages to communicate better with their citizens.
Tribal leaders are also pressing the federal government to respond to the elevated risks faced by Indian nations in this pandemic.
With the number of positive #COVID19 cases rising in tribal communities, Indian Country will finally see billions of dollars in relief from a major #Coronavirus package almost over the finish line on Capitol Hill. https://t.co/tk1glXDSHU
The federal government has a trust responsibility to protect Indian nations. Based on its treaty relationship with and respect for the sovereignty of Indian nations, the federal government is obligated to support tribal self-government and economic prosperity and to protect tribal lands, assets and resources.
The federal government has yet to live up to its treaty and trust responsibilities to Indian nations and offer adequate assistance in responding to the coronavirus epidemic.
Enacted on March 6, the Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act authorizes US$40 million in emergency aid to help American Indians combat the coronavirus.
But the Trump administration has yet to release the money, and it took over two weeks to devise a plan so that tribal governments and organizations could even access the funds.
The plan adopted by the Trump administration ignored requests from tribal leaders to have the Indian Health Service disseminate the funds, requires tribes to seek noncompetitive grants, and has yet to allocate any money to tribes in some regions.
Tribal leaders continue to pressure the federal government to take the spread of the coronavirus to their communities seriously and provide basic medical supplies, funding for medical services and economic aid to address lost revenues for tribal programs and services due to business closures.
Some members of Congress appear to be paying attention. The House Committee on Natural Resources has initiated efforts to gather information from Native communities about how the coronavirus is affecting them and how the federal government could serve them better.
But Indian leaders remain concerned as the number of cases in Indian country continue to rise. Despite their best efforts, it may turn out that too little aid came too late.
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Kirsten Carlson is an Associate Professor of Law and Adjunct Associate Professor of Political Science at Wayne State University.
This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.