Trump can’t mask message to Indian country: Live and let die
The COVID-19 pandemic has hit the Dine/Navajo people hard, inflicting the highest per capita infection rate in the country after New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Massachusetts. The Navajo Nation is the largest reservation in the country, larger than West Virginia, straddling Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and Utah. Half of the over 300,000 enrolled members reside on the reservation. Navajo President Jonathan Nez has issued some of the strongest stay-at-home measures in the country, including a weekday evening curfew and a complete, stay-at-home curfew for the entire weekend. Nearby Gallup, New Mexico, with a large Dine population, has enacted a complete lockdown, with the National Guard prohibiting entry.
As of May 5, despite these efforts, there were 2,559 confirmed COVID-19 cases on the Navajo Nation and 79 deaths.
The Navajo Nation, along with the nearby Hopi, Pueblo, Zuni and Gila River indigenous communities, have endured despite centuries of genocide, oppression and systemic racism and poverty. The novel coronavirus pandemic is afflicting them disproportionately, as it has African American and Latinx populations across the U.S. Access to water is challenging on the Navajo reservation.
“That’s from a long state of histories with treaties and our relationship with the [federal] government,” Dr. Michelle Tom explained. “Our infrastructure for water has never been at the capacity where we can provide water for everyone on the reservation. So, you’re telling people to wash your hands for 20 seconds, and yet people are trying just to get water just to drink and to cook with.”
President Donald Trump made a rare trip Tuesday, visiting an Arizona N95 mask factory, where he ignored factory rules by not wearing a mask. Guns ‘N Roses blared from a factory sound system, playing the song “Live and Let Die.” It’s not clear if it was a coincidental music choice or not.
Trump also met with elected officials, including Navajo Nation Vice President Myron Lizer. The Navajo Nation joined a lawsuit filed by numerous native tribes against Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, for his abject failure in disbursing $8 billion promised to Native American tribes in the CARES Act.
“The amount of money that’s being sent to ‘Indian country,’ as we call it, is the largest amount in the history of the U.S. And you deserve it. And you’ve been through a lot,” Trump said to VP Lizer. “The Navajo Nation will soon receive over $600 million. That’s a lot. Should I renegotiate that? Can we renegotiate that?” (Laughter.)
There was no laughter back on the Navajo reservation. “Today, the federal government announced that they intend to release a portion of funds appropriated by Congress over one month ago to tribes to help fight COVID-19, but I’ll believe it when I see it,” President Jonathan Nez, who himself tested positive for the virus, replied. “We couldn’t sit around and wait for those dollars, so we’ve had boots on the ground in nearly 20 communities giving out food, water, firewood, protective masks and other supplies ... We lost many of our beloved relatives and family members to this virus, but our teachings also tell us to move forward. We will and we are.”
Amy Goodman is the host of “Democracy Now!,” a daily international TV/radio news hour airing on more than 1,400 stations. She is the coauthor, with Denis Moynihan and David Goodman, of the New York Times best-seller “Democracy Now!: 20 Years Covering the Movements Changing America.”