COVID-19 highlights the neglect of indigenous communities throughout the United States
With the announcement of several hundred COVID-19 cases throughout the Navajo Nation, it is clear to see why residents are worried. Due to the improper implementation of basic hygienic necessities such as clean running water, residents are at a higher risk of not just contracting the disease, but also lack the basic sanitation requirements needed to provide protection to residents, and maintain the cleanliness standards set out by the government, thus highlighting a deeper issue of neglect of Indigenous Nations by the United States Government.
Protection in times of pandemic not being afforded is a sign of bigger issues regarding the neglect of indigenous groups throughout the United States. As pointed out by Dr Charles M. Blow “when we implore everyone to wash their hands, let’s remember that there are 1.5 million people suffering from ‘plumbing poverty’, no access to running water”.Through analysis of the maps below, it is easy to see that the areas with the lowest concentration of clean water access include many indigenous reservations such as the Navajo Nation, Pine Ridge and many in Alaska.
This further brings up the looming question: how can Indigenous Nations protect themselves against a pandemic that has now affected over 650,000 people in the United States without being afforded the basic human right of a consistent source of clean running water? The short answer is that this can’t happen; it is simply not possible to suggest that protection can be provided without proper sanitation methods being implemented by the United States government.
Hospital treatment is likely to be key in saving potentially hundreds of thousands of lives in the USA, however in the Navajo nation there is a mere four-hundred hospital beds for every 170,000 residents. Amber Kanazbah Crotty, member of the Navajo Nation Council stated “in addition to economic and topographic challenges, the Corona-virus pandemic represents particular risks to the Navajo – and other tribal nations – as rates of cancer, heart and respiratory diseases and diabetes are comparatively higher than in non-Native populations, while tribal health services have been underfunded for decades”.
To flatten the curve of COVID-19, like many other US states, the Navajo Nation have implemented curfews, and banned travelling for anything that is considered non-essential. Nevertheless, the pandemic brings to light more than ever the true neglect of indigenous peoples throughout the United States. Whilst the federal government may be implementing funding for temporary relief, long term solutions that ensure basic human rights are fulfilled are needed throughout indigenous reservations, whilst ensuring the autonomy and rights of such nations: something that the United States’ has so far failed to address.