Virus destroys economy, future of Native Americans


The coronavirus has eliminated revenue sources for US Native Americans that are used to run health facilities, making the pandemic more deadly on reservations, Harvard University experts said in the school’s newspaper Friday.

Tribes are responsible by law to provide services to natives on land allocated by the federal government. But because they are not authorized to collect taxes, they depend on revenue from casinos and other allowed enterprises to pay for law enforcement and public health.

“Native American tribes are having a disproportionate health effect that is highly problematic, and they’re having a disproportionate impact to the revenues that can be used to take on the health crisis,” said adjunct professor Erik Henson. “A lot of tribes are having the worst of both worlds at the same time,” he said.

The economic impact of COVID-19 on Native American communities could be devastating, said Joseph Kalt, the Ford Foundation professor of international political economy emeritus at Harvard Kennedy School.

“There is not a single Indian casino in the United States open today, and all tribal businesses are closed,” said Kalt, who is the co-director of the Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development.

“Native American tribes’ tax base have been cut literally to zero, and tribal governments don’t have money to run the health clinic or child protection services,” said Kalt. “While state and local governments are also in trouble, at least they have a tax base, but tribes are really struggling because their tax base has been wiped out.”

According to Indian Health Services, there are nearly 4,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 among Native American tribes, with more than 2,700 on Navajo reservations.

There are around 100 registered deaths, most among the Navajo nation.

The Navajo territory of a just over 44,000 miles (71,000 kilometers) stretches across parts of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah and is home to 250,000 natives. It reportedly has the third-highest per capita rate of COVID-19 in the US, after New Jersey and New York states.

Native Americans have historically been vulnerable to novel diseases brought to their territories. Millions of tribal residents have lost their lives for centuries succumbing to diseases introduced by European colonizers.

Tribal governments are set to receive $8 billion from the $2 trillion Coronavirus, Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act passed by Congress in March.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *