Valentina Blackhorse, a mother, leader, and pageant winner from Navajo Nation died on April 23, 2020, after being diagnosed with covid-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus strain only a day before. She was just 28 years old and is survived by her one-year-old daughter, Poet, and her sister, Vanielle. At the time she started to experience symptoms, she was caring for her partner who had also come down with the disease.
Valentina is just one of 88 members of the Native American tribe who have been killed by the virus as of last Thursday, placing the death toll of Navajo Nation higher than that of 13 U.S. states. That number, coupled with the 2,757 confirmed cases as of last week, makes Navajo Nation the third hardest-hit area per-capita in the United States, following New York and New Jersey.
However, unlike New York and New Jersey, which both struggled to acquire necessary resources like ventilators before eventually receiving assistance from places like California, Navajo Nation has not found their resource disparity addressed in quite the same way, if at all.
Speaking to The Guardian, Jonathan Nez, president of the Navajo Nation, said that until the severity of their situation started making headlines, their needs were being largely ignored.
“We are doing our very best to flatten the curve with the very limited resources we have on the Navajo nation. The first citizens of this country were once again pushed aside by the most powerful government in the world … but now that we’re in the headlines, US citizens are finally realising the deplorable conditions our people live in. We’re fed up. This has got to end.”
One of the largest uphill battles they’re currently fighting is one for running water, which about 30% of Navajo Nation doesn’t have right now. Not having ventilators is one thing, but not even being able to wash your hands, and being forced to ration water during a pandemic, is quite another.
Although they’ve instituted some of the strictest lockdown measures in the country, it’s difficult to contain a disease when many residents live in extremely close, crowded quarters, and resources from the federal government have been delayed to the point that it became necessary to sue in order to obtain them. The $600m finally arrived on Wedesday, six weeks late and a week after it was scheduled to be distributed.
Although they have received some relief resources from other sources, notably from actor Sean Penn and CORE Response, the need for privatized assistance is a consistent reminder of the failings of our government to adequately support its people, particularly those whose land we’re all living on.