Quantcast
Connect with us

As Arizona coronavirus cases surge from early reopening, Indigenous nations suffer not only more COVID-19 but also the blame

Published

on

In the days before Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey changed course by urging people to stay home, Scottsdale city councilman Guy Phillips donned a face covering and shouted “I can’t breathe” into a microphone at an anti-mask rally. His mocking of the last words of George Floyd is only one more example of the racism that seems to shadow the outbreaks of contagious viruses.

ADVERTISEMENT

That’s precisely what happened 40 years ago with HIV/AIDS; that’s what happened a century ago with the xenophobically named Spanish flu. Today, it’s happening on sovereign tribal lands throughout the American Southwest, where the loathsome relationship between racism and the novel coronavirus is on full display.

Our ethnographic studies include a focus on health care and health policy for the Indigenous people of the U.S. We now know COVID-19 cases and deaths within the Indigenous nations have soared, and are among the worst hot spots in the country. Currently there are well over 7,000 positive cases on the Navajo Nation – which covers portions of Arizona, Utah and New Mexico – where per capita infections quickly surpassed New York and New Jersey in May.

One of the reasons: When Gov. Ducey first let expire his statewide stay-at-home-order, droves of Arizonans returned to life as usual. They congregated in long lines and dined in crowded restaurants. Many were not wearing masks. Fourteen days later, COVID-19 cases began to rise. With that, Arizona lost control of the virus.

Indigenous people already live with existing challenges to health and life.About 18% of COVID-19 deaths in Arizona have been Indigenous people, where they account for 4.5% of the population. And still Arizonans in border regions actively resist changing their behaviors to curb the spread of disease.

Medics consult with a drive-in patient at a COVID-19 testing center in the Navajo Nation town of Monument Valley, Arizona. Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez said weeks of delays in delivering coronavirus aid to Native American tribes exacerbated the outbreak.
Getty Images / Mark Ralston

Racism toward Indigenous people

Hispanic, Black and Indigenous people are more likely to be hospitalized or die from COVID-19 than whites. And although white Arizonans are aware of that, their response, all too often is indifference and sometimes hate. Cities on or near ancestral Indigenous lands and tribal nations may be geographically close, but politically, economically and culturally, they are worlds apart. This racism is common in regions that border tribal lands.

ADVERTISEMENT

A recent example: In a Facebook post, Daniel Franzen, a 34-year-old white man from Page, Arizona, urged readers to use “lethal force” against Indigenous people because “they are 100% infected.” Local police arrested him.

And from April 2016, an even more deadly example of violent policing: Austin Shipley, a Winslow, Arizona, police officer shot and killed Loreal Tsingine, a 100-pound Navajo woman. The officer claimed to fear for his life because the woman was holding a pair of scissors. After Tsingine was shot, eyewitnesses were not allowed to administer lifesaving techniques that might have saved her. Her body was left in the street until 6 a.m. the next day.

This was not the first time Shipley was the aggressor during his career and, as the current uprising of Black Lives Matter reminds us, Indigeous, Black and people of color often die by the hands of police. Leaders of Indigenous social movements sued the federal government and continue to fight for justice.

ADVERTISEMENT

Monument Valley Tribal Park in Arizona, closed due to the pandemic. Normally, the park would be teeming with tourists this time of year.
Getty Images / Mark Ralston

Distancing from ‘outsiders’

In March 2020, our research team interviewed 30 non-Indigenous people across the political spectrum about the pandemic. One of our questions: Is anyone to blame for the virus? Responses range from finger-pointing at all of China (the “Wuhan Coronavirus”), to President Trump and “out of control capitalism.” As for “who would suffer the most,” our respondents were consistent. Indigent people of color, they said, are most at risk.

They also discussed a need to physically distance from “outsiders.” Such a response suggests a pervasive idea – that associating with certain groups increases the dangers of virus transmission. One white woman, an outlier, told us that Indigenous people had been “a little slower to adopt the precaution measures … it is easier for them to forget to protect themselves.” The woman now avoids stores where Indigeous people go. Others said much the same thing though usually with concern and awareness. Exposure to friends and family was OK. Interaction with outsiders was more dangerous.

ADVERTISEMENT

The notion that Indigenous people are “slower” to respond to COVID-19 is false. Tribes quickly and proactively promoted science-based resources and issued emergency executive orders that are updated regularly. The White Mountain Apache Tribe closed down borders early and then again in June, after one-eighth of tribal members tested positive for COVID-19. Donations of hand sanitizing stations and personal protection equipment for Navajo, Hopi, Tewa and other tribes in the region continue to provide relief.

Challenges to lifesaving procedures came from outside of tribal nations. The mayor of Page, Arizona, for example, posted a social media query to the president of the Navajo Nation in hopes that tourist attractions would open for business. Others responded that Nez, the president, was “busy fighting hard for our people.”

Rather than acknowledging the actions of tribal leadership to save lives, the mayor instead chose to perpetuate the racist trope of “drunk indians” by writing, “I wish he would battle alcoholism as hard as COVID-19.”

ADVERTISEMENT

Residents of the Navajo Nation in Monument Valley, Arizona, line up to collect water and supplies as COVID-19 spreads through the area. Approximately one-third of this sovereign territory’s 178,000 residents don’t have access to running water or sanitation.
Getty Images / Mark Ralston

A battle for clean air and water

Before COVID-19, many Indigenous people already feared the inability to breathe. In the Southwest, children on tribal lands have a 60% higher asthma risk than non-Hispanic whites. For heat, many families in the Southwest use coal and wood-burning stoves; the particulate matter from them is unsafe for inhalation, and long-term exposure increases the likelihood of death from COVID-19.

Clean water, too, is often inaccessible. More than 500 abandoned uranium mines have elevated radiation levels on tribal lands in the southwest. That means Indigenous people and their livestock depend on contaminated water. Radiation spills, including the Church Rock spill, the country’s largest, continues to contain high levels of toxins. Indigenous miners and their families are also at elevated risk for respiratory problems, including lung cancer, and increased vulnerability to COVID-19.

Tribes partnering with environmental justice organizations and federal agencies are aware of these disparities and they fight to improve science and policy for healthier air and water on tribal lands, but these efforts are an uphill battle. The racism of border town leaders demonstrates why.

Fighting back

In the last few weeks, Black Lives Matter brought national attention to this failure. Finally, all of us see what Native, Hispanic and Black Americans long knew: We live in a political, governmental and judicial system that treats Black and brown bodies as disposable. We are governed by a collective mindset that rigidly enforces economic disparity, political disenfranchisement, environmental injustice and extreme policing. The difficult but doable task facing all of us now is to create a future more equitable and just for Indigenous people.The Conversation

ADVERTISEMENT

Lisa Hardy, Associate Professor of Anthropology and Director of the Social Science Community Engagement Lab, Northern Arizona University; Gwendolyn Saul, Research Affiliate , Northern Arizona University, and Sonja Michal Smith, Graduate student, Socio-Cultural Anthropology, Northern Arizona University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


Report typos and corrections to: [email protected].
READ COMMENTS - JOIN THE DISCUSSION
Continue Reading

2020 Election

Montana GOP ticket sidelined after exposure to COVID-positive Trump, Jr. girlfriend Kimberly Guilfoyle: report

Published

on

The Montana Republican Party is facing a crisis after multiple members of the ticket traveled to South Dakota for Donald Trump's rally and were potentially exposed to COVID-19.

"Montana gubernatorial candidate Rep. Greg Gianforte and his running mate, Kristen Juras, confirmed Saturday they will self-quarantine after Gianforte's wife, Susan, and Juras attended an event last week with Kimberly Guilfoyle, who has since tested positive for COVID-19," KBZK-TV reported Saturday.

Continue Reading

Breaking Banner

WATCH: Florida beachgoer pushes new conspiracy theory of how COVID-19 got to the United States

Published

on

On Saturday, a viral video showed Jacksonville, Florida attorney Dan Uhlfelder — famous for touring Florida's beaches in a Grim Reaper costume to protest lax COVID-19 safeguards — confronting a beachgoer.

The other man offered a novel conspiracy theory of how the virus spread to the United States: that former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter were behind the whole thing.

"Biden and Hunter went over to China, and then brought it back," said the man.

Continue Reading
 

Breaking Banner

Susan Collins’ July 4th tweet blew up in her face in spectacular fashion

Published

on

On Saturday, Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) tweeted her concern for small businesses in Maine that are suffering because the normal Fourth of July business has been suppressed by the coronavirus pandemic:

The Fourth of July is typically the height of Maine’s busy summer tourism season, but near-empty hotels, inns, B&Bs, and restaurants underscore the devastating effects the pandemic has had on many of our state’s small businesses and jobs.

— Sen. Susan Collins (@SenatorCollins) July 4, 2020

Continue Reading
 
 
You need honest news coverage. Help us deliver it. Join Raw Story Investigates for $1. Go ad-free.
close-image