This has resulted in UIHI and the other tribal epidemiology centers not having access to core data on the nationwide spread of the coronavirus, which is hampering efforts to track the disease among the Indian population and to understand how and why tribal people in some areas at disproportionate rates to be killed.
Indigenous peoples have a higher Covid 19 mortality rate than whites, Asians, and Latinos analysis by APM Research Lab. And in severely affected New Mexico, Indians are almost 60 percent of coronary virus deaths, but only 8.8 percent of the population.
Last month, Indian Health Service chief physician Michael Toedt said in a press conference that his agency and the CDC had a dispute resolution mechanism in place for data exchange between tribal organizations and health ministries. However, a CDC spokesman said that there were no complications with the data exchange, and indicated that the agency sent 15 experts to the Navajo Nation to help with epidemiology and contact tracking.
“If you can’t measure [the coronavirus,] You can’t do it, ”said Stacy Bohlen, executive director of the National Indian Health Board, which provides political expertise to the 560 nationally recognized Indian tribes. “It is another chronic failure of what Indians experience across the healthcare system. We know it is happening across the country.”
Tribal leaders have also hit roadblocks at the local level. The Bay Mills Indian community in northern Michigan was unable to obtain Covid-19 data from surrounding Chippewa County after one of its members, who worked as a security guard in a local prison, reported that he had continued contact with a coronavirus patient. It took a showdown with the state until the tribal leaders reached an agreement with the state correction department to share disease monitoring information.
“It was a pretty heated exchange with the state [we] I said you are not an island, ”said Bryan Newland, leader of the Bay Mills Indian Community. “Your officers stamp off and go to church, we need to know about this stuff.”
Newland said Chippewa County continues to refuse to enter into a surveillance and contact tracking agreement with the tribe. District officials did not return repeated requests for comments.
“We never took the time to work with our local health department,” said Newland. “There has never been an opportunity to think about our relationship and how we can look after it.”
State officials in Massachusetts raised privacy concerns this spring when they dismissed a request for coronavirus data from the Gay Head / Aquinnah tribe of Wampanoag, who had asserted their rights as a state-recognized nation and tried to covid-19 patients to help those who have been discharged from hospitals. said the tribal chair, Cheryl Andrews-Maltais.
The tribe insisted only to learn that the state brought Indian patients together with patients from other race categories. While it has received a more thorough breakdown since then, the delay made the tribe fly blind, she said.
Massachusetts is one of at least two dozen states in which Indians are either categorized as a “different” race category as part of their coronavirus data or do not record Native American case or death data at all. The group includes New York and New Jersey, which are among the largest urban concentrations of Indians in the United States.
Tribal leaders attribute the difficulties in accessing data to a lack of knowledge of how the Indian communities work and the lack of interest of local authorities in working with them.
Tribal organizations should contact the federal government directly due to long-standing federal trust obligations that they established as sovereign units.
However, the Trump administration has largely directed the tribes to work with state and local officials on coronavirus issues, including providing medical care and coordinating response efforts.
The tribes are trying to build new relationships during a public health crisis. The Indian Health Service – the main federal agency responsible for caring for Indians and natives in Alaska – does not store hospitalization data or mortality rates for signs of outbreaks, said Fawn Sharp, president of the National Congress of the Indians.
Sharp enumerated these and other challenges at a House Coronavirus Crisis Subcommittee briefing last week, highlighting limited testing in Native American communities and the routine misclassification of Native Americans in local health data.
“The United States has chronically underfunded every sector of our health and socio-economic life and triggered a crisis in the 21st century that has profound effects on our public health, economy and social life,” she said.
Over the next hour and a half of the briefing, however, only one legislator followed to ask Sharp a question.