This letter features reporting from "COVID-19 Data on Native Americans Is ‘a National Disgrace.' This Scientist Is Fighting To Be Counted" by Lizzie Wade
My name is Dani Cohen and I am a student here in Salt Lake City. I am writing to you in regards to my concern about the safety of the Indigenous communities here in Utah as well as nationwide as our country continues to struggle with the current coronavirus pandemic. In a recent article about COVID-19 data on Native Americans by Lizzie Wade published to Science Magazine, scientist Abigail Echo-Hawk details the immense shortcomings our government has allowed in regards to documenting the rate of infections and deaths among Indigenous communities all over the country. These shortcoming have led to some of the hardest-hit communities being those on reservations and of Indigenous background.
As a member of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation and someone who personally has family who live on reservations in Oklahoma, the statistics in Utah that Indigenous populations have been the hardest hit communities per capita is very concerning. What’s more, as detailed in this article, many states’ reporting of positive cases and deaths as a result of COVID-19 in Native communities is inaccurate. Many states list Native American’s race as “other,” leading to inaccurate reporting on the case numbers. This inaccuracy is dangerous as it allows the American public to be uneducated about the urgency that Native populations face to combat this disease that has ravaged their communities. Underrepresenting the amount of positive Covid-19 cases and deaths allows lawmakers to ignore the health risks particular to Native communities, when they should be putting more resources into mandates that protect these communities and allow Native Americans to have better access to healthcare.
Another pressing issue highlighted by the pandemic is the implicit bias and outright racism that many doctors feel towards Native Americans. Echo Hawk details the questions about drug and alcohol use she was subjected to when she visited a doctor during her pregnancy, which deterred her from visiting a doctor until later in her pregnancy. Even then, she only felt comfortable visiting a Native hospital as she knew she could only receive thorough care there because of the racism many doctors feel towards Native Americans, inhibiting their ability to receive the care they deserve. The distrust of doctors among many people of color, and specifically Native Americans, has aggravated the already devastating effects of the pandemic on Native populations.
This issue is especially important to me as my grandfather was the first Native American man to graduate from Harvard Medical school, and he dedicated his life to serving the Native community in Oklahoma for this very reason. I want to continue the work he was so passionate about by educating others on the many obstacles Indigenous communities face as a result of years of oppression. By accurately displaying the numbers of infections in the Native community and by accurately describing people as Native American or Alaskan Native instead of “other,” we can work to persuade citizens and lawmakers to stand up for these communities and fight for their rights to better healthcare, and hopefully make a difference in the rate of infections and deaths among my Native community.
Dani Cohen is a junior in high school at the Marlborough School for Girls in Los Angeles, California. Currently, she is taking a leave of absence to dance with the Professional Training Division of Ballet West Academy in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Dani is grateful to have an opportunity to discuss the issues that are important to her, especially the safety and well being of the Indigenous communities in the United States. As a member of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, a federally recognized Native American tribe, this is something she cares deeply about. Dani is very interested in journalism. She believes being able to express yourself no matter who you are or what you feel is a fundamental building block to what makes a democracy. When Dani is not dancing she likes to take her dogs on hikes and spend time with her friends and family.