Addressing COVID-19 challenges in Tribal communities

COVID-19 continues to ravage Native American communities in the Southwest, taking lives at rates 19 percent higher than other racial or ethnic groups. In an effort to help those communities, the UNM Native American Budget and Policy Institute (NABPI), in partnership with the State of New Mexico’s Indian Affairs Department, created a resource guide to consolidate information and updates.

The Tribal Resources for COVID-19 page provides quick access to information on federal and state resources, as well as updates on grants and funding opportunities.

“Our Native communities deserve to be informed,” said Cheryl Fairbanks, the institute’s interim executive director. “The mission of NABPI is to conduct research, budget and policy analysis in order to promote social justice advocacy and encourage Native American communities to create self-determined and systematic change. The foundation of change is knowledge, and we’re hoping access to these resources will educate and empower our Native communities.”

The site has links to news, information and announcements and also provides downloadable infographics on how to access assistance, promote health-conscious decisions and identify misinformation. In addition, it outlines relief and support funding areas for tribal groups impacted by COVID-19. The site also makes available academic reports focused on the hardships being faced by these communities.

The most recent report is titled COVID-19: Internet Access and the Impact on Tribal Communities in New Mexico. During a time when the world is moving virtual, a big challenge in connecting Native American communities to resources is the lack of access to broadband internet.

“Families without broadband access to telehealth, the internet, electronic information, and technology are at greater risk for not having their health needs met. The health-related impacts that tribal nations will face are unprecedented.” – COVID-19: Internet Access and the Impact on Tribal Communities in New Mexico.

According to NABPI, the Federal Communications Commission in 2018 estimated 35 percent of Americans living on tribal lands across the country lacked access to broadband services, compared with 8 percent of Americans overall.

“This is a significant problem for our Tribal populations that is not new but is being exposed due to the importance of high-speed internet access right now,” said Gabe Sanchez, an author of the report and director of UNM Center for Social Policy. “Because of the nature of COVID-19, many services and social interactions are moving online. But these changes are highlighting the pre-existing inequality of high-speed internet access, which are being compounded because of the health crisis.”

The report outlines possible short-term solutions, like WiFi buses, but acknowledges it will not be an easy road to long-term solutions. Sanchez and his team hope that the disparity will become a more forefront issue among local, tribal, state and federal leaders because of the impacts of COVID-19.

/Public Release. The material in this public release comes from the originating organization and may be of a point-in-time nature, edited for clarity, style and length. View in full here.