For decades, Native American communities have been severely underfunded by the federal government due to a lack of data. This has dire consequences when it comes to the pandemic.
When it comes to defeating a deadly pandemic, accurate information is our greatest pandemic. However, it appears that the United States is far behind when it comes to recording data with precision. First, it was African Americans. Now, Native Americans are being wrongly documented in Coronavirus data captures. Rather than accurately defining their ethnicity, they are being marked as "other," The Guardian reports. This is a dangerous practice that could have daunting repercussions on a community that is already largely underserved. Fears of hidden health emergencies in one of the country’s most vulnerable populations are now on the rise.
As per analysis conducted by The Guardian, 80 percent of all state health departments have released racial and other demographic data about their Coronavirus cases. This data has revealed "stark disparities" in the impact of the ongoing pandemic in black and Latinx communities. At first, this data was simply not available, but as more states come forward with information, it is evident that already existing inequalities have only become sharper. Curiously, of all the states that recorded demographic data, almost half did not include Native Americans in their racial breakdowns. Instead, Native Americans were classified as "other."
Abigail Echo-Hawk (Pawnee), the director of the urban Indian health board and chief research officer at the Seattle Indian Health Board, said in an interview with The Guardian, "By including us in the other category it effectively eliminates us in the data." This is particularly problematic as the virus seems to be affecting Native American communities disproportionately. The Arizona state health department, for instance, reported that Native Americans comprise 16 percent of the state’s Coronavirus-related deaths, though they only represent only six percent of the state’s entire population.
This week alone, the health authorities for the Navajo Nation, which includes areas of Arizona, Utah, and New Mexico, reported 1,197 new positive cases of Coronavirus and 44 deaths. If the region were a state, it would come in third in the country for confirmed cases per 100,000 population. They would closely follow behind New York (the epicenter of the outbreak) and New Jersey. This is partly owing to the lack of well-funded healthcare in the Navajo Nation. At present, there are only 12 healthcare facilities across 27,000 square miles. While local authorities were doing their best to ramp up services and test for the novel virus as much as possible, this is all futile if no one is maintaining an accurate record of data.
But why is this data so important? "You can’t fix what you can’t see," Senator Elizabeth Warren explained. "If we want to slow the spread of the virus and ensure our response is robust and equitable, we need comprehensive data on who is getting tested, who is getting treatment, and who is dying." She recently introduced a bill calling for consultation with tribal governments on federal data collection as well as an additional $3 million for Indian Health Services. These services have been historically underfunded by the federal government, owing to a lack of data. For some Native Americans, it's also about their history in this country. Jourdan Bennett-Begay (Navajo), independent Native newspaper Indian Country Today’s Washington editor stated, "Often researchers and legislators say there is no data... We don't want to be forgotten."