WASHINGTON — Native American tribes are facing a dire situation from the COVID-19 pandemic, bringing some of them to a breaking point, American Indian health leaders told members of Congress Wednesday.
In many places, tribal leaders are scrambling to respond to disproportional illness and death in their communities. Confirmed COVID-19 cases among American Indians and Alaska Natives are 3.5 times higher than that of non-Hispanic whites, according to a recent study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC looked at cases from 23 states that track racial data, including Nevada.
“The state of affairs in Indian Country remains dire,” Francys Crevier, CEO of the National Council of Urban Indian Health, said at the hearing held by a panel of the U.S. House Appropriations Committee.
Rep. Mark Amodei (R-Nev.), a member of the Appropriations subcommittee, attended the hearing but did not make a statement or ask any questions. Amodei’s vast rural district stretches across the northern third of the state and overlaps Navajo Nation land.
Amodei’s spokesman said the issue is of concern for the congressman, who supported federal aid for tribes as part of the House coronavirus relief bill last spring.
“Congressman Amodei will continue working with his colleagues on the subcommittee to support ongoing coronavirus response efforts,” spokesman Logan Ramsey Tucker said.
There are 27 federally recognized tribal nations in Nevada. About 52,000 Nevadans (almost 2 percent of the state’s population) identify as American Indian or Alaska Native, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Kevin Allis, CEO of the National Congress of American Indians, a non-profit that gathers policy recommendations from American Indian and Alaska Native governments, called the situation in Indian Country a “national emergency.”
“Tribal leaders have reported to us that their nations, their existing systems of service delivery and infrastructure, are under a great deal of stress and are very close to reaching a breaking point, as they try to seek to maintain the status quo and increase essential government functions in response to COVID-19,” said Allis, who is also an enrolled member of the Forest County Potawatomi Community in northern Wisconsin.
Tribal leaders and Native American health groups have asked Congress for additional relief as communities face lost government revenues and more demands on health systems and schools.
“We may not have been able to prevent the outbreak of COVID-19 but we absolutely could have mitigated its worst impacts in Indian Country,” said Carolyn Angus-Hornbuckle, director of public health policy for the National Indian Health Board. “Tribal nations are battling a catastrophic disease without necessary funds and resources to protect and preserve life.”
Census data estimates from 2019 place North Carolina’s American Indian/Alaska Native population at just over 160,000 or around 1.6% of the state total. Meanwhile the state COVID-19 dashboard estimates that 2% of the state’s nearly 213,000 infections are afflicting people in this racial group — though the dashboard also notes this could be an underestimate.
Looking for federal help