Navajo Nation fights for more federal funding as COVID-19 numbers surpass 1,700 positive cases

Coronavirus Updates

NAVAJO NATION (ABC4 News) – As their second 57-hour weekend curfew came to an end Monday morning, Navajo Nation continued to feel the brutal hit of COVID-19. The reservation, which spans across parts of three states, has surpassed 1,700 positive cases and their death roll remains at 59. It ranks as the area with the third-highest infection rate in the U.S., trailing only behind New York and New Jersey.

On Monday through a video call, President Nez showed ABC4 News the construction site by U.S. Army Corps of Engineers of Navajo Nation’s second alternative care facility in Chinlee, Arizona. The other one is in Shiprock, New Mexico with a third one near the reservation in Gallup, New Mexico. The facility will hold 50 beds in case of needed overflow for patients who are positive with COVID-19.

“Our Nation is slowly seeing the benefits of the three COVID-19 bills passed by Congress, but it is not arriving fast enough. We need more rapid testing, health care personnel, PPE, ventilators, and other essential services to adequately address the expected increase of COVID-19 cases on the Navajo Nation,” officials said.

The construction is about halfway done on the Chinlee site and should be completed next week. 

“We hope that we don’t need this but we are in a spike right now here in positive cases. Better to be safe than sorry,” said President Nez to ABC4 News.

In the meantime, various organizations, agencies, and volunteer groups from across the country are sending in donations and shipments of PPE and essential items to Navajo Nation. On Friday, President Nez was asked during CNN’s Cuomo Prime Time about how he felt regarding the federal government’s response in COVID-19 financial aid.

“You probably heard about the Navajo Code Talkers, utilizing our language in order to win World War II. So tribal nations across the country have contributed greatly to this free country of ours and guess what? Sometimes the first citizens of this country are at the bottom of the list when it comes to federal aid and that’s what we’ve been trying to say for the last several weeks now,” said President Nez.

Last Wednesday, tribal leaders announced Navajo Nation joined 10 other tribes in a lawsuit against the U.S. Secretary of the Treasury regarding federal COVID-19 funding. In a news release, officials said Congress allocated $8 billion to help tribal government fight the virus under the Coronavirus Relief Fund. But officials said the Secretary intended to find more than 230 Alaska Native Corporations using the funds.

They explained Alaska Native Corporations are for-profit corporations organized under state law and are owned by shareholders, including non-Indian shareholders. The 12 regional Alaska Native Corporations alone have more than 138,000 shareholders, employ more than 43,000 people worldwide, and generated more than $10.5 billion in revenues in 2018.

“Allocating funds from the Coronavirus Relief Fund to the Alaska Native Corporations will severely impact the Navajo Nation’s ability to fight COVID-19, and will impact every other tribe as well,” said President Nez.

He added, “While the Secretary has not yet announced a formula to disburse the funds, including the Alaska Native Corporations in the calculation will reduce the funds available for tribal governments.  The impact on the Navajo Nation will be significant because of the Nation’s size, population, and the already disparate impact of COVID-19 on the Nation.”

On Monday, the U.S. District Court ruled in favor of tribes, supporting the Navajo Nation’s position that the $8 billion included in the CARES Act to fight COVID-19 should be allocated for federally-recognized tribes and not for-profit Alaska Native Corporations.

Back on the ground, tribal leaders urged residents to continue complying with the shelter-in-place order that remains in effect 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

“When the weekend curfew ends, there shouldn’t be a rush of people leaving their homes to go out into public. Let’s continue to stay home, unless you have an emergency or if you need food or medication, to slow the spread of the virus. Now is not the time to let our guard down,” said President Nez.

Officials said Navajo Police Department will continue to conduct road checkpoints to enforce compliance with the weekend and daily curfews in various communities on the Navajo Nation. Violators can receive citations with fines up to $1,000 and up to 30 days in jail.

“Families are losing their grandparents, parents, siblings, and even children to this virus. It’s not worth it – to go out in public and risk your lives unless it’s absolutely necessary. If you need groceries, send one person and that one person is required to wear a protective mask,” said Vice President Lizer.

Over the weekend, Navajo Nation mourned the loss of former Miss Western Navajo and tribal employee Valentina Blackhorse. She passed away from COVID-19 on Thursday at just the age of 28. Officials said at the time of her death, she was employed by the Division of Community Development and devoted much of her time to the reservation’s 110 chapters. She leaves behind a one-year-old daughter.

“She was a loving person who gave so much to her Nation and her Diné people. Our leaders are very saddened to learn about her passing,” said President Nez.

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