By Heidi Steltzer & LeManuel Lee
Bitsóí Fort Lewis College, Durango, Colorado
Whether it is a flood, a fire, a mine spill or a pandemic, people are harmed when disasters occur. We witness the harm in our communities, and it is real. It impacts people we know and love – our neighbors, friends and family.
Though the COVID-19 pandemic is global, local experiences inform our perspective. For many in Colorado, we are fortunate that the proactive policies of our state, smart and hardworking folks in public health, and our communities’ commitment to stay home have kept the spread of the disease low.
Other communities have not been as fortunate. The impacts of COVID-19 on the Navajo Nation (Diné) are devastating; at least 27,665 people have been infected since the pandemic began nearly a year ago. Though a rural region distant from areas with high prevalence at the start of the pandemic, colonialist and bureaucratic policies in addressing COVID-19 have greatly affected the well-being of the Diné in ways that are difficult for many Coloradans and other Americans to fully comprehend. Despite being a sovereign tribal nation, the Navajo Nation lagged behind in developing a comprehensive plan to address the pandemic as compared to Colorado and other states.
Durango, where we live, is located on the ancestral lands of the Diné, Ute and other Indigenous Peoples. The Navajo Nation extends to the south and west of Colorado, including northwest New Mexico, southeast Utah, and northern Arizona. Across Colorado, and especially here in the southwest, we are connected to the Diné through the skies and our rivers.
In Durango and across Colorado, we can support the Diné by reading news about the Navajo Nation and other Native American communities, and providing resources. This is one of many grassroots efforts donating lifesaving supplies to the Diné. Photo: Courtesy of Marsha Porter-Norton.
During this pandemic and with the rising impacts of the biodiversity and climate crises, people should also be better connected. We, in Colorado, should support our Native American neighbors. Through connection, we will witness and better understand why long-standing inequities lead to tremendous health risks for tribal nations due to COVID-19, and we can be better neighbors by working collaboratively to address such inequities.
The resilience of Colorado depends not just on actions we take within our state, but on being a good neighbor and supporting the well-being of communities across our region with whom we share the air, water and wealth of the land.
Here are a few ways Colorado can be a good neighbor to the Navajo Nation:
- Subscribe to and follow news media sources and social media that cover news on the Navajo Nation and in other Native American communities: Navajo Times, KGHR Navajo Public Radio, Indian Country News, Navajo & Hopi Families COVID-19 Relief.
- Click on and read articles about Native Americans in mainstream media and share support for the inclusion of their perspectives in these articles.
- Share what you can by donating time, resources or money to grassroots relief efforts, many of which are led by Native Americans, to provide food, water, personal protective equipment, and financial support: Protect Diné Mountain Communities from COVID-19, Navajo & Hopi Families COVID-19 Relief Fund, Native Women Lead.
- Purchase Native American arts and crafts online direct from artisans.
- Listen to their concerns and advocate for policies requested by Native American leaders and tribal nations.
(Numbers on COVID infection in the Navajo Nation were updated in January 2021).