Lawmaker: US is still failing to meet treaty obligations

Cronkite News

Even before the pandemic, the federal government wasn't doing what it should to provide basic preventative health care, U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum says

Yaodong Gu
Cronkite News

PHOENIX – The disproportionate impact COVID-19 has had on minorities underscores the longstanding failure of federal officials to respond to the needs of Native Americans, U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum said Thursday in a subcommittee meeting on the Indian Health Service.

“Five tribes are experiencing more instances of coronavirus per 100,000 citizens than any states, including New York,” the Minnesota Democrat said, citing data from the American Indian Studies Center at UCLA and Indian Country Today.

According to a data visualization posted by UCLA researchers, if COVID-19 infection rates were scaled per 100,000 people and if tribes were states, the top five infection rates nationwide would be tribes. The Navajo Nation ranks fifth in the highest number of cases per capita, the data said.

The virus has raced through the Navajo reservation, which touches parts of New Mexico, Utah and Arizona and is home to 173,000 tribal members. As of Tuesday, 6,110 COVID-19 cases have been reported on the reservation, with 277 deaths and 2,814 recoveries.

“The United States government has a trust responsibility to Indian tribes and signed treaties promising to provide health care and other services,” said McCollum, chairwoman of the House Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee. “Hundreds of years later, the failure to meet these treaty and trust obligations continues.”

Pictured: Representative Betty McCollum (DFL-MN-4).
McCollum (Photo: mccollum.house.gov)

Even before the pandemic, she said, the federal government had failed to provide basic preventative health care or to meet treaty obligations extending beyond health care. Since the pandemic was declared in March, officials have not provided sufficient personal protective equipment and adequate test kits, and they delayed distribution of federal relief funds, McCollum added.

As of Friday, June 12, the Arizona Department of Health Services reported 1,654 new cases of COVID-19 in the state – a record for a single day – and 17 additional deaths, bringing the total to 1,144. Health officials said 442,886 tests for COVID-19 have been completed in public and private labs in Arizona, and 6.7% of tests have come back positive.

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