Black Lives Matter Momentum Propels More Awareness Of Systemic Issues Afflicting Native Americans
The last few weeks have been historic for Native Americans.
First, a major Supreme Court ruling declared a significant part of eastern Oklahoma is under Native jurisdiction. And earlier this week, Washington’s NFL team dropped its name and logo, which was long seen as racist.
Native American journalist Vincent Schilling, who is also an associate editor for Indian Country Today, says this sea change offers hope in now tackling some of the systemic problems in their community such as police brutality.
This year's racial justice protests have brought visibility and awareness to Native communities, who have been fighting for change for years, he says. The national attention is "unprecedented" in the two decades Schilling has been a journalist, he says.
"I find it impossible to talk about any of this without mentioning the incredible efforts of the Black Lives Matter movement, which has also helped to propel all of this forward," he says. "I’ve never felt such respect as a Native person from other people in my career."
Conversations in the Black Lives Matter movement have been centered on police violence against Black people. Police brutality also greatly impacts Native Americans, he says.
Native Americans are killed in police encounters at a rate higher than any other racial group in the U.S., according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"The violence against people of color is horrendous," he says.
Schilling, who grew up in Compton, California, says when he moved to the East Coast, he was once pulled over by a police officer for a broken headlight.
"I get pulled over. My skin’s dark," he says. 'And the officer said, 'You know, your headlight was out.' I dropped off my friend, and my friend was like, ‘Vince, your headlight’s not out.’ "
Schilling says he doesn't want to detract from the movement for Black lives, but says the issue of police violence against both communities is incredibly important.
Native Americans are also disproportionately impacted by COVID-19. Before the coronavirus pandemic, the Native American community already had higher rates of infectious disease severity and death compared to any other population in the U.S., according to the John Hopkins Center for Native American Health.
Some of the biggest challenges in curbing the spread of the virus are connected to the underfunding of American Indian health systems and shortages in testing and outreach in many of their more rural communities, he says.
As of July 13, there's been more than 13,000 COVID-19 cases and 555 deaths in the Indian health system, he says.
Schilling recently caught up with one of his friends in the Navajo Nation. "He told me that seven of his friends have died," he says. "Who do we know where seven of our friends have died from COVID-19?"
He says the complications around providing adequate health measures lie heavily upon Native Americans being overlooked, specifically when it comes to a lack of funding from the U.S. government both before and during the pandemic.
The Indian health system "struggles" and is "constantly underfunded," he says, which compounds in the current health crisis.
Clinics are being converted into ICUs, and many sick Native Americans are being transported out of tribal communities in search of facilities that are better suited for the patient's needs, he explains.
"It’s a disaster," he says.
This article was originally published on WBUR.org.
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