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Michael Woestehoff

Navajo Nation citizen

Before you read the rest of this article, or before you end this article, please know that I am not anti-VAX, anti-science, anti-health, or a conspiracy theorist. Quite the opposite. I believe the vaccines are safe and effective. But, I want you to take away that Indian Country has options, we need to explore them, and we need to ask honest questions of our healthcare providers and demand answers that are shielding us from ever moving out of this pandemic.

A shocking video

I recently watched a video from Project Veritas exposing the forced limitations on healthcare options to our tribal citizens being served at the Phoenix Indian Medical Center. Patients, who are our aunties, cousins, and cousin-brothers, are shamed from exploring other treatment options, not being offered antibody testing, and are not tracking data - something that we have all been requesting to report during the time of COVID, for our tribal citizens and urban Indian populations.

In addition, for many of us using the IHS, we don't have the luxury of one-on-one care, so the concept of consulting with our primary care doctor is somewhat absent at the IHS facilities: we merely have a chart number and are shown to a medical professional on rotation.

I am thankful Congressman Gosar has taken up the challenge to demand answers and shine a light on this crisis within a crisis. I do not take this time to be critical of the IHS - they were at the forefront of the pandemic response from priority testing to the vaccine rollout, something that many communities were not ready to manage on their own, and for that, I am thankful.

Real options are available now and coming soon

The pandemic is real. Coronavirus is real. However, we understand now more than we ever have about the virus, including its origins and its ever-changing variants.

First, antibody testing has shown that if we contract the coronavirus and recover, our body naturally produces a long-lasting immunity, sometimes becoming more durable than a vaccine.

A professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and Bloomberg School of Public Health shares in the Washington Post that more than 15 studies have demonstrated the power of natural immunity acquired by previously having the virus.

Second monoclonal antibody treatments are now widely available. Recently, CNN shared that at least three promising antivirals for COVID are being tested in clinical trials. In addition, NBC reported a new COVID-10 pill by Merck that cuts the risk of death and hospitalization by 50 percent. We need to continue to explore other therapies and treatments.

We are big, and that's not helping

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What is also not being talked about is prevention. We, as Native people, can really start embracing our food sovereignty issues, become more knowledgeable about our food sources, and how we can move forward together understanding the health benefits of diet and exercise. For many people suffering when they catch COVID, numerous studies worldwide show the heightened dangers to overweight people.

Death rates from COVID-19 have been ten times higher in countries where more than half of the population is overweight and 67.9 percent of the U.S. population is overweight. Not only are we overweight, but we are also obese. So, we must normalize these conversations and understand that high sugar, highly processed foods such as gas station snacks and fast food are not helping us. This is not just in Indian Country. This is all of the United States.

Ask questions and demand answers

We are at the mercy of our current federal officials. And most Americans are blindly trusting a single treatment option, that two or three doses are our only way out of the pandemic. 

If most Americans don't ask questions, Indian Country certainly won't either. It is like a classroom, where if the kids in the front are not asking questions, you know the kids in the back aren't either. This is where we are, unfortunately.

Vaccine mandates: Let's rethink this single-strategy

When we are being faced with the choice of vaccine or lose our job or vaccinating our youth, whose immune systems are still developing. I encourage you all to start asking our leaders why they are so trusting in the government this time around.

In July, and this is still true, PBS reported that American Indians have the highest COVID vaccination rate in the US. So, why do we need a mandate? We need to ask federal officials about natural immunity. We need to ask our medical practitioners why we are only being offered one option. I write this not to scare people but to remind you that we are sovereign nations. We deserve better, we demand options in treatment, and we need to be heard during the pandemic.

There are healthcare professionals that want to speak to tribal citizens about solutions. There are policy institute leaders who want to facilitate this conversation.

Let’s work together.

It is very important to strictly follow your health care provider’s instructions for any medication during COVID-19. Do not self-medicate. 

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This opinion-editorial essay does not necessarily reflect the views of Indian Country Today; voices in our opinion section represent a variety of reader points of view. If you would like to contribute an essay to Indian Country Today, email the opinion editor, Vincent Schilling at

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