Coronavirus & Indigenous Tribes On ‘Stuff They Don’t Want You To Know’

By Diana Brown

June 23, 2020

Though states are reopening businesses and tourists are flocking the beaches, the coronavirus pandemic is far from over. But for some communities, the effects on the virus have wreaked extra havoc thanks to centuries of systemic racism and government neglect. On this episode of Stuff They Don’t Want You To Know, hosts Ben Bowlin, Noel Brown, and Matt Frederick break down the statistics of who exactly is contracting and dying from Covid-19, and gives special attention to the indigenous and native populations of the United States, who are being left behind not only in terms of stimulus money and PPE, but also being effectively erased from the data, all while bearing a significant portion of the mortality rate. “There seems to be an emergency within the emergency brewing here,” Noel says – and he’s right.

Because of a series of treaties signed with tribal nations between 1787 and 1871, Native Americans are the only part of the population of the United States with a constitutional right to healthcare. But these promised health and human services, including housing and education, have always been woefully underfunded. Before the pandemic, Natives had disproportionately higher rates of diabetes and asthma, and Native women were more than four times more likely to die in childbirth than white women. Now, it’s even more clear that the tribes aren’t being taken care of. The National Guard had to get involved to get PPE to the Navajo Nation, and more than a month went by before the pitifully small $8 billion in stimulus funding started to be dispersed to the 574 federally recognized tribes. 

But though it’s obvious that more Natives are contracting and dying of Covid, the data isn’t entirely clear, because instead of categorizing Native deaths, hospitals are placing them into the “other” category, essentially because they’re a small subset of the population. This is a serious problem, as Abigail Echo-Hawk, Chief Researcher with the Seattle Indian Health Board, points out: “We’re a small population of people because of genocide. No other reason. If you eliminate us in the data, we don’t exist. We don’t exist for the allocation of resources.” Without fully grasping how Covid is affecting the Native community, their health and wellness will continue to be swept under the rug – and more people will die. Listen to this episode to hear more about the problems with our data collection, and the issues in the tribal communities getting much-needed supplies and assistance, on Stuff They Don’t Want You To Know.

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