Assistant Professor Desi Lonebear Rodriguez quoted in the article—
Covid is killing Native Americans at a faster rate than any other community in the United States, shocking new figures reveal.
American Indians and Alaskan Natives are dying at almost twice the rate of white Americans, according to analysis by APM Research Lab shared exclusively with the Guardian.
Nationwide one in every 475 Native Americans has died from Covid since the start of the pandemic, compared with one in every 825 white Americans and one in every 645 Black Americans. Native Americans have suffered 211 deaths per 100,000 people, compared with 121 white Americans per 100,000.
The true death toll is undoubtedly significantly higher as multiple states and cities provide patchy or no data on Native Americans lost to Covid. Of those that do, communities in Mississippi, New Mexico, Arizona, Montana, Wyoming and the Dakotas have been the hardest hit.
The findings are part of the Lab’s Color of Coronavirus project, and provide the clearest evidence to date that Indian Country has suffered terribly and disproportionately during the first year of the deadly coronavirus pandemic.
The losses are mounting, and the grief is accumulating.
“Everyone has been impacted. Some families have been decimated. How can we go back to normal when we’ve lost so many after so many layers of trauma? It’s unbearable,” said Amber Kanazbah Crotty, a tribal council delegate in the Navajo Nation.
On Tuesday, the former Navajo president and Arizona state representative Albert Hale died from Covid, bringing the tribe’s death toll to 1,038, the equivalent of losing one in every 160 people on the reservation.
The figures show that even though multiple more infectious variants are yet to take hold in the United States, the situation has already wrought a devastating toll on Native communities and may get worse.
Last month was the deadliest so far in the US, with 958 recorded Native deaths â€“ a 35% increase since December, a bigger rise than for any other group. For white Americans, deaths rose by 10% over the same period.
“Not only do Native people have the highest rate of Covid deaths, the rate is accelerating and the disparities with other groups are widening. This latest data is terrible in every way for indigenous Americans,” said Andi Egbert, senior analyst at APM Research Lab.
There are 574 federally recognized American Indian tribes and Alaska Native Villages in the United States. The Navajo Nation, the second largest by population, has suffered the greatest number of deaths, but smaller tribes are facing insurmountable losses.
In Montana, the Northern Cheyenne tribe has lost about 50 people to Covid so far â€“ which is 1% of the reservation population of 5,000 people.
“Our collective grief is unimaginable. Losing 1% of our people is the equivalent of losing 3 million Americans. Native Americans are used to dying at disproportionate rates and we’re used to scarcity but Covid is different, there’s a growing sense of hopelessness,” said Desi Rodriguez-Lonebear, an assistant professor of sociology and American Indian studies at the University of California.
Rodriguez-Lonebear added: “I fear the long-term impacts on mental health, our children, community resilience and cohesiveness. We’re in the middle of a massive storm and we’re not prepared for the aftermath.”
About a quarter of those who have died were native Cheyenne speakers. The tribal clinic is currently receiving 100 vaccine doses a week, at which rate it will take almost a year to vaccinate everyone.
“Our language, culture and traditions is what makes us Cheyenne, but we’re losing our teachers. How am I going to teach my son when I still have so much to learn? Indigenous communities are facing a cultural crisis that other communities are not.”