As the weeks in quarantine drag on, the coronavirus continues to rob the lives of people around the world. Some states are beginning to slowly open up again, letting restaurants who have been confined to offer only takeout open their doors again to eager customers. Those with small businesses will be able to return to work and make sure that social distancing protocols are still being followed in their stores. But this raises another problem: coronavirus is largely impacting people of color. The existing adversities that POC have had to face are now being exposed because of this pandemic.
Lack of resources towards communities of color is another reason why COVID-19 has been so prominent among minority groups. For example, the Navajo Nation, the biggest Native American tribe in the United States, spans 27,400 square miles across the states of Arizona, Utah, and Colorado. The reservation itself is larger than the state of West Virginia. 175,000 people live in the Navajo Nation with little access to water. 40% of homes on the Navajo Nation have no way of obtaining running water. In order to attain this basic human need, families must drive many miles to pump for water. If one has no water, there is no way for them to wash their hands and inhibit the spread of the virus throughout their community which is largely composed of elderly people.
The Nation has endured another problem for a long time– lack of electricity in homes. During spring break of 2019, I traveled to the Navajo Nation. As an urban Native woman, my family and I believe that it is key to visit the land my ancestors came from. During our stay, we inned at Goulding’s Lodge, a popular hotel right next to Monument Valley Tribal Park and the Navajo Nation Visitors Center. I felt guilt creep in staying at the well-run, refurbished establishment knowing that many of my own people were living in poverty just next door.
After fighting for support from the government, the Navajo Nation has received $600 million from the Trump Administration’s CARES Act. Every year, $8 billion dollars in government funding are expected to be allocated among over 500 federally recognized tribes and nations. The underlying problems that Native communities experience are now being brought to the forefront due to the coronavirus pandemic. The government acts as if these problems weren’t really “problems” until it is affecting every single person in the country.
The disparities that were already underlying in minority communities are now, after many years of trying to bring them to the forefront, are finally being recognized due to this virus. Many news broadcasters are now exposing how COVID-19 is affecting Native American communities. If these life-threatening struggles, such as not being able to obtain drinkable water, were not able to garner attention until the coronavirus highlighted them as an issue, then the country must answer an important question: why did it take until now? While acknowledgment is not the same as solving these issues, it is a first step. These problems have only surfaced because all Americans are at risk. Our leaders and city planners must take the initiative in order to protect minorities now and forever, as this time has highlighted the pre-existing hygiene issues of indigenous people that continue to torment their communities.