1 Sep 2021
In states where local rulers have banned compulsory masks in schools, Native American tribes are using their authority to enforce their own rules regarding masks, tests, and vaccines, The Guardian reports.
Jason Dropik, chairman of the board of directors of the National Indian Education Association, told the Guardian that most of the indigenous communities he has been in contact with have implemented mask warrants despite statewide bans. He also told the outlet that part of the motivation for implementing their own security measures is due to the way the pandemic has hit some indigenous communities.
“When we have losses, and we do every year, even outside of a pandemic, but when you increase that amount of loss, there are ways of being that just don’t continue to be taught, and that can be completely lost, ”Dropik said.
“It’s not just about someone’s life, which in itself has a huge impact, but also about ways of being, cultural traditions, language and work that sometimes also pass with our native speakers. “, he added.
Native Americans have some of the highest vaccination rates in the country. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that Native Americans are 24% more likely than whites to be fully vaccinated, 31% more likely than Latinos, 64% more likely than African Americans, and 11% more likely than Asian Americans, according to the Los Angeles Times.
“We were extremely aggressive with our vaccination rates very early on”, Loretta Christensen, chief medical officer of the Indian Federal Health Service, told the LA Times. “We already had all of that on board, certainly before the Delta variant ramped up, so we’ve reduced our cases.”
“It has been just a huge effort across the Indian country to take care of our people,” she added.
Oklahoma, Utah, Arizona, Iowa and South Carolina have banned masks in schools. In Florida, Texas and Arkansas, mask bans are currently being challenged and therefore not enforced, according to The Guardian.
Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez told the Guardian that students and staff meet the mask requirement at their schools. He attributes the success in part to the tribe not politicizing COVID-19.
“With any war, any battle, you have to be equipped, you have to have your armor and you have to have your weapons,” he said. “And one of the armors we have is the vaccine. And one of the weapons we have is the mask and hand sanitizers. And so we framed it that way so that our elders could understand what we are dealing with. And they helped us and helped talk to our younger generation.
The Navajo Nation reports that more than 70% of its members who live on the reservation are fully vaccinated, according to Christensen and The LA Times.
The CDC reports that 52.4% of the general population is vaccinated against COVID-19.
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