Info about rising, nearby COVID-19 cases is key for First Nations communities
First Nations leaders will continue to press for systemic changes on how health data is shared after the privacy commissioner ruled against their request for more specific COVID-19 numbers.
Dec 25, 2020
Information about rising COVID-19 cases that are occurring near Indigenous communities is essential, according to First Nations leaders, who say they will continue to press for systemic changes on how health data is shared.
“We just want information about how many COVID-19 cases there were in nearby communities … that are close to our reserves, that our members are going to utilize all the time, so we could tell them, ‘We are on lockdown because there are so many cases,’” said Judith Sayers, the president of the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council, which includes 14 communities on Vancouver Island.
Sayers has spoken about how quickly the virus can spread due to the vulnerable circumstances faced by First Nations communities, including poverty, overcrowding and lack of resources.
Marilyn Slett, chief councillor of Heiltsuk Nation, said the more remote locations of some communities means planning for medical trips is “not as easy as just taking a trip into Vancouver from the suburbs.”
In total, three Indigenous governments, the Nuu-Chah-Nulth First Nation, close to Bamfield, Port Alberni, Tofino, Campbell River and Duncan, the Tsilhqot’in Nation and communities, close to Williams Lake and Quesnel, and the Heiltsuk Nation close to Port Hardy, Haida Gwaii, Nanaimo, Prince George and Metro Vancouver, have all asked the Ministry of Health to disclose more COVID-19-related information.
There won’t be an appeal, but Sayers noted the privacy commissioner’s ruling last week highlighted the need “to enact legislation to provide for information-sharing that facilitates self-government for First Nations” and quoted heavily from Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond’s December report on Indigenous-specific, systemic racism in the B.C. health-care system.
Despite mistrust, Native Americans’ participation in vaccine development proves vital
By ALLIE YANG AND TENZIN SHAKYA, ABC NEWS
Navajo medicine man Timothy Lewis starts each day with a corn pollen seed offering to the creator. He prays for his family and the world’s wellbeing amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
“I hope that we can get back to normal,” Lewis said. “I want to see my grandkids again. I wanna hold them and I wanna hug them again.”
Lewis is one of the 463 Native Americans across the country that volunteered in one of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine trials; his was a pivotal Phase 3 trial. Both of his parents were also traditional Navajo healers, and he says they instilled in him a responsibility to help others whenever possible.
“My parents would have liked this,” Lewis said. “They would have wanted me to do this. And that’s the reason why I actually volunteered. I really want us to come back to being the way we were [before the pandemic].”
The virus has ravaged the Navajo Nation, which covers an area the size of West Virginia, and is home to more than 300,000 enrolled tribal members. Despite some of the strictest lockdowns and weeks-long curfews, the communities there are still in the throes of a lasting crisis.
Just this week, the Navajo Department of Health reported 272 new cases. As 75 communities continue to face uncontrolled transmission of COVID-19, there have been a reported 21,833 total cases throughout the Navajo Nation, with over 760 deaths since March.
Several factors have contributed to the virus’ proliferation in the Navajo Nation, including an abundance of multigenerational homes where people live with their extended families in small buildings.
Christensen says she believes that COVID-19 vaccine makers need to be transparent and share the data they collect in order to build trust within the Navajo community.
“We really need [the] population of the Native Americans to be represented in data and how they respond to the vaccines,” Livingston said. “We really need to take a look at that so that we are better prepared to present this data to the community, and that way they would feel more comfortable in receiving the vaccine when the time comes.”
COVID-19 by the numbers in South Dakota
Since the onset of the pandemic, South Dakota’s Native American population has been overrepresented in the state’s COVID-19 cases. While making up approximately 9% of the population according to 2019 Census estimates, the population has accounted for nearly 12% of all cases.
As of Dec. 23, data from the South Dakota Department of Health (DOH) shows that of the state’s 96,040 cases, non-Hispanic Native Americans accounted for 11,676 or approximately 12% of the cases.
Non-Hispanic white people, meanwhile, make up more than 81% of the population according to Census estimates, but approximately 68% of the state’s COVID-19 cases, or 65,372 cases.