Even as some states begin the process of reopening their economies, Native American tribes are dealing with disproportionate challenges during the pandemic. The Navajo Nation, in particular, has suffered greatly.
"The native communities are the ones that are suffering the most from the virus," former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson told Cheddar. "Close to 30 to 40 percent of those that are afflicted are tribal members, especially the Navajo Nation."
Richardson described "enormous devastation" from the coronavirus, and said that the extraordinary difficulties stem from being overlooked by state and federal government, the lack of infrastructure, and demographic issues.
"Forty percent of all families in the Navajo Nation in four states, Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, and Arizona, don't have running water at all," Richardson said. "We neglect this community. As a nation we always have."
The Navajo Department of Health tallied more than 4,000 cases and 140 deaths from COVID-19 as of Sunday. Though Richardson noted the federal government did provide $600 million of relief for the hard-hit tribe, he had some criticism for the speed of the response.
"Well, $600 million sounds impressive, but it's late. The Congress should have acted sooner. The president should have acted sooner," he said. "But the need is so great and the virus is so deadly that I'm concerned that somehow we should have moved on this sooner."
Richardson, whose private COVID-19 Navajo Families Relief Fund is attempting to supply basic necessities to the nation such as face masks and diapers, also had some advice for using public funds on the crisis.
"It's important that the tribal communities spend these monies properly. Spend it on basic infrastructure, like water, healthcare, directly to the people," he said. "De-emphasize the pork. Emphasize the specific needs like masks, like public education where Navajos stay home, like lockdowns."