Indianz.Com Video: CARES Act #Coronavirus Relief for Indian Country

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention faulted for delay in Indian Country coronavirus funds

As tribes look to the federal government to uphold its trust and treaty responsibilities during the worst public health crisis in decades, one important agency is receiving failing grades for its response to the coronavirus pandemic.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has yet to release any of the $80 million promised to Indian Country, according to tribal leaders and advocates familiar with the situation. It's now been more than three weeks since Congress appropriated the much-needed funds, as the number of positive cases continues to rise in communities that have been hit hard by COVID-19.

"We are in dire need of personal protective equipment or PPE’s, health care workers, and many other resources that are needed to address the growing COVID-19 pandemic," Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez said in explaining what could be done with additional money.

20 new cases and three more deaths related to COVID-19 reported, Medical stations being established in Chinle and Tuba...

Posted by Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez and Vice President Myron Lizer on Monday, March 30, 2020

As of Monday, tribe has seen 148 positive cases on the reservation, which is the largest in the United States. Navajo leaders also confirmed five deaths from the disease.

“We haven’t nearly reached the peak of the virus — that’s what’s our health care experts are telling us," said Navajo Nation President Myron Lizer.

The tribe is among the poster children for the CDC's failure to work closely with Indian Country. Even though the agency, in an internal planning document, said the Navajo Nation was among the recipients of an initial $40 million in funds, Nez said he was never told about the money.

ROAD BLOCKS IN PLACE AS CURFEW TAKES EFFECT 03.30.20 The Navajo Police Department began holding road blocks this...

Posted by Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez and Vice President Myron Lizer on Monday, March 30, 2020

The disconnect continues this week. A notice that informs tribes how they can apply for the remaining $40 million has yet to materialize, even though advocates were told to expect it on Monday.

"CDC plans to post on grants.gov early this week," was what spokesperson for the agency told Indianz.Com when asked about the holdup.

Tribes and their advocates have expressed serious frustrations with the CDC over the past month, as it became clear that the coronavirus was going to impact Indian Country in a major way. Unlike the Indian Health Service, the agency lacks a long-term relationship with tribes, and that has proven to be a hindrance.

"CDC has got to learn how to work with tribes," Stacy Bohlen, the chief executive officer of the National Indian Health Board, said on a COVID-19 town hall hosted by Indian organizations last week.

Another Indian health official was far more blunt, calling the CDC "extremely arrogant" in its dealings with tribes. "Big time assholes," the leader told Indianz.Com.

"They disregard and disrespect their own tribal advisory committee," this person said of the internal deliberations that have gone on within the Trump administration.

On the town hall last Thursday, Bohlen expanded on the detrimental nature of the relationship. As meetings have moved to teleconference and online platforms during the pandemic, CDC never held a national call with tribes, she said. The agency did not work with its established tribal advisory committee either, instead asking a different entity for input, Bohlen and the other Indian health official said.

“CDC didn’t even follow its own tribal consultation policy," Bohlen, a citizen of the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians, said on the tribal town hall.

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CDC's oversight of the tribal advisory committee helps explain why the initial $40 million excluded certain parts of Indian Country. Tribes in the Great Plains Area and the Tucson Area were left out even though they include some of the largest populations of American Indians and Alaska Natives and cover some of the largest reservations in the U.S. The CDC has yet to fill advisory committee vacancies in those two regions, according to documents on the agency's website.

Despite tribal complaints about the CDC, leaders are still trying to improve the relationship. With even more coronavirus resources going to the agency, a listening session is being held Tuesday afternoon to help guide future efforts.

Besides the $80 million in process, the H.R.748, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, directs the CDC to provide a "minimum" of $125 million for tribes and tribal organizations. The bipartisan law, also known as the CARES Act, includes more than $1.5 billion for coronavirus health efforts in tribal and urban Indian communities.

“All tribes across the country are feeling the effects of coronavirus," said Victoria Kitcheyan, the chairperson of the National Indian Health Board.

"All tribes are suffering," said Kitcheyan, who serves on the council of the Winnebago Tribe. "All tribes need funding. All tribes need assistance to combat this virus and save their people’s lives."

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