Red Lake Nation News - Babaamaajimowinan (Telling of news in different places)

Returning to School in Indian Country during the Pandemic


August 17, 2020

A Diné child begins her much-anticipated school year online in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

As schools across the United States begin the new school year amid the Covid-19 pandemic, Native people face steeper obstacles than many other Americans. According to the New York Times, "The rate of known cases in the eight counties with the largest populations of Native Americans is nearly double the national average." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data show that Native Americans who have contracted the virus have the highest hospitalization rate of any ethnic group in the United States. Higher rates of coronavirus deaths among American Indians and Alaskan Natives have been caused by underlying health conditions such as diabetes, respiratory disease, cardiovascular disease, and high blood pressure; lack of access to medical care; and many communities' high poverty level.

Many reservations and Indian lands are located in remote areas of the United States and are among the hardest hit by COVID-19. Particularly hard hit are the Navajo Nation (New Mexico, Arizona, and Utah); Yakama Nation (Washington state); Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians (Mississippi); White Mountain Apache (Arizona); Pueblos of Zia, San Felipe, and Kewa (New Mexico); Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska, and Colorado River Indian Tribes (Arizona), according to data updated on July 20 by the American Indian Studies Center at UCLA.

To protect their members, some tribes have closed their borders to outside visitors for short periods of time. Exposure to the virus, a primary issue in many places where young people are returning to classrooms, is an even greater concern in communities where-whether by poverty or tradition- multigenerational family members share homes and may have too little space to practice social distancing. Native people fear that reopening schools will be a catalyst to bringing the coronavirus into their homes, where it will infect Native elders and at-risk family members.


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