Here in New Mexico, Native Americans are a bit more than 10 percent of the population, but they are moving up to a close-to-40-percent share of positive tests for the novel coronavirus. Two pueblos, Zia and San Felipe, west and north of Albuquerque, are hot spots, but the bulk of the caseload is coming from the Navajo Nation that covers much of the western third of the state, and spills over to much of Arizona and Utah.
With a population of a bit over 350,000, the Navajo Nation had recorded 838 cases of Covid-19 by April 20, more than six states – Vermont, North Dakota, Hawaii, Montana, Alaska and Wyoming – with between 60 and 300 percent more people than the Navajos.
Another classic case of “Shocking, but not surprising.”
Weeks before the Navajo body count started rising, it was well-known in Washington that the coronavirus pandemic would be a big threat to Native Americans. Said Arizona Congressman Ruben Gallego, “Tribal, and urban Indian health facilities serve some of our most vulnerable populations but are among the most under-resourced in the country. That” he predicted, “can have deadly results during a public health crisis like the one we are facing now.”
Here’s what Rep. Gallego meant by “vulnerable:” Of the 15 leading causes of death in America, Native Americans die at a faster rate than the national average from every one of them except Alzheimer’s Disease.
And here’s what he meant by “under-resourced:” In 2016, the Indian Health Service budgeted, for each of the 3.7 million American Indians, just under $1300 a year. The Federal Prison system budgeted, for each prisoner in its custody, just under $7000.
Another classic case of “You get what you pay for.”
In a way, the spike in verified infections – notable in Native American Covid-19 hotspots in North and South Dakota as well as New Mexico, Arizona and Utah – contains a bit of good news. The rising numbers of infections are the products are a surge in testing. And Dr. Deborah Birx, the coronavirus response coordinator for the White House is promising more and better tests are on the way. Right now, though, the reality is, the Navajo Nation healthcare system is dependent on handouts, like the 250 Covid-19 testing kits recently donated by the University of Arizona.
Jourdan Bennett-Begaye is a Diné journalist currently stationed in the Nacotchtank & Piscataway Lands (Washington, D.C.). Jourdan works as the Washington editor at Indian Country Today, “a daily digital platform that covers the Indigenous world.” She identifies as Kiyaa’áanii (The Towering House Clan), Mą’ii deeshgiizhinii (The Coyote Pass Clan of Jemez), Naakai dine’é (The Mexican Clan), and Ozei Táchii’nii (The Hopi with Red Running Into the Water Clan). She completed the Newhouse Graduate Newspaper Fellowship for Minorities at the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University in New York. Obtaining her master’s degree in magazine, newspaper and online journalism takes her one step closer to creating her own magazine for Indigenous communities (and exploring Mother Earth).
Before the career change, she obtained a bachelor’s degree in Athletic Training at Fort Lewis College and played collegiate volleyball. Her love for dance and working with Indigenous youth led to co-founding the Survival of the First Voices Festival.
After graduate school, she taught journalism, video production, and theatre at her alma mater, Kirtland Central High School, in New Mexico. She’s written for Native Peoples Magazine, Fan First, MediaShift, The Daily Times, NAJA’s Native Voices News, NPR’s NextGen Radio Project, and Syracuse.com/The Post-Standard.
When she’s not reporting, she tries to read the works of Native authors and history, learn Diné Bizaad, FaceTime with her nephews and niece, is watching nutritional videos with her partner, workout and figure out more ways to change the world.