Virus rampages across vast Navajo lands, close-knit families

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  • Navajo Nation Is Behind Only New York and New Jersey in Rates of COVID-19 Infection. What Happened? – Mother Jones
    https://www.motherjones.com/politics/2020/05/navajo-nation-covid-outbreak-deaths

    With a population of 350,000 and territory encompassing over 27,000 square miles, the Navajo Nation is the largest Indigenous reservation in the country, bigger than West Virginia and nine other US states. Today, the rural community has more per-capita COVID-19 infections than any place outside of New York and New Jersey. In April, its rate of infection was 10 times higher than that of Arizona, which encircles most of the Nation. Since the first cases cropped up on the reservation more than one month ago, more than 2,373 people have been infected, and the death toll stands at 73—higher than those of 11 states. “The need for the Navajo is far greater than any other tribe I have seen,” says Rep. Deb Haaland (D-N.M.), whose district includes part of the reservation.

    The reasons for it expose how history and long-standing inequalities are shaping the way the disease attacks.

    Retour sur le colonialisme US et l’histoire de la nation navajo.

    So when the Navajo Times reported that the reservation’s outbreak likely began at the March 9 rally of a local chapter of an evangelical church, Solomon says, “everybody’s mindset immediately went right back to” the church’s role in colonizing the Navajo. Rumors began to swirl that white Christians had brought the virus, perhaps even intentionally, creating confusion about how the virus spreads and suspicion of information from the outside. “It brought back the mistrust, and a lot of bad memories. My parents, like other Diné people, became wary of the whole situation,” says Solomon, who prefers the term Diné as the Navajos’ traditional name for themselves. Even COVID-19 prevention measures felt like a form of colonialism. And as the virus became a growing concern across the country, awareness developed slowly on the reservation. Early news of the outbreak largely came through English-speaking media, which many Navajo either don’t read or don’t trust. Many elders on the reservation only speak the Navajo language, and even those who understand English prefer to receive information from particular local sources. “If they watch the news, it’s not really registering,” says Solomon. “But when they turn into KTNN,” a popular Navajo radio station, “they hear the medicine woman or the Navajo Nation president talking about it, and then it sinks in. When they’re talking about it in Navajo, in our language, it has more of an impact. I see that with my own parents.”

    Indian Health Service workers, school nurses, and community center officials could have done more to inform Navajo people about the importance of social distancing before their officials were forced to implement widespread closures and intense weekend-long curfews, says Solomon. She only began to hear KTNN feature local leaders on hand-washing, social distancing, and other mitigation measures around the start of April, long after such advisories became widespread elsewhere.