On May 18, CNN reported that the Navajo Nation surpassed New York and New Jersey for the highest per-capita coronavirus infection rate in the US with more than 4,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19.
The following interview is excerpted here with permission from Civil Eats.
“There’s no way this is going to end well,” said Catherine Bryan, explaining the dire circumstances Native tribes are facing as coronavirus has taken hold in their communities. Bryan is the director of the Strengthening Tribal and Community Institutions program at the First Nations Development Institute (FNDI), a nonprofit grantmaking organization, and one of many people working to support Indigenous people on the frontlines of coronavirus.
Civil Eats spoke with Bryan and her co-workers at FNDI—A-dae Romero-Briones, director of the Native Agriculture and Food System program, and Jackie Francke, vice president of programs and administration—about the situation they have witnessed on the ground for the Navajo, Hopi, and Pueblo people. In addition to limited medical resources, and escalating mortality rates, Native communities are facing drastic food and water shortages.
CE: Can you lay out the situation in your communities for our readers?
Adae Romero-Briones: In one Pueblo, we had six deaths in a community of 2,000. That gets lost when we look at New York City, where there are thousands of people dying, and we don’t hear the individual stories. But in Native communities, six people dying in one day, it’s monumental—I don’t know how else to describe it—especially when you think about how precious each individual is to the continuation of culture or tradition and contribution to community.
Jackie Francke: We’re finding that, although it’s possible to get food transported to Albuquerque, it’s that last mile to the community that’s a huge gap in the supply chain.
Even though the National Guard is responding and some food is being delivered to the most vulnerable folks, what happens to the other tribal members? There’s still not enough food. There are a lot of tribal members who still do not have running water or electricity—so sending frozen meat or fresh produce, that can be tricky.
CE: What efforts is FNDI undertaking to help feed people, and what challenges are you facing?
Romero-Briones: We’ve spent almost two weeks trying to figure out how to get this one order of much-needed meat to communities. And then once it gets there, some people don’t have refrigeration, they don’t have electricity. How are they going to [cook] it? We have so many supply issues to deal with. These are issues that have been apparent for decades, and now we have to figure those out in weeks or days.
Francke: What is really critical is identifying distribution routes, working with communities to establish those distribution chains, and where the drop-off points are, and doing it in a way that really benefits tribes. Don’t do it for them, but let them identify it with you. That’s really important. Everyone wants to help, but the tribes really have to be engaged in the conversation.
CE: Can you speak to the government response so far—or lack thereof?
Francke: Everyone is saying, “Oh, the tribe is getting stimulus funds.” I mean, you’re talking about how many different tribes are going to have to split that money across the U.S.? So that is not going to solve the problem. We need to be looking locally. How can we start revitalizing our local food systems and having tribes at the table?
CE: What kind of local efforts are you seeing?
Francke: One group of Navajo started the Navajo and Hopi Families COVID Relief Fund, they started a GoFundMe page. Now we’re hearing groups coming out from the Northern Navajo relief fund community, the Eastern Navajo Relief Committee. So groups are starting to gather, they’re starting to respond. The community members and volunteers are the ones making all of this happen.
Catherine Bryan: Maybe we’ll get through this phase, but that last mile can’t be forgotten again. It’s critical that what’s been happening right now in the Pueblos and the Navajo [reservation] continue to receive attention and support.
When it’s over, we have to change things so that our communities don’t suffer like this again.
For more, please read the entire story on Civil Eats.
Please donate to support relief efforts in our tribal communities:
NATIVE AMERICAN RELIEF FUND
To help provide emergency relief—a team of funders and community leaders have joined forces to raise $3 million for COVID-19 relief for Navajo, Apache and Pueblo Nations in New Mexico.
Go to New Mexico Community Foundation website to donate
Notah Begay III (NB3) Foundation COVID-19 Response Fund
Over the next several weeks, this COVID-19 Response Fund will directly support families and children living within the Navajo Nation, New Mexico and tribes in South Dakota.
Go to NB3 website to donate