Devastation & Resilience in Indian Country

Lisa O'Brien
July 2, 2021

COVID-19 has been devastating in so many ways, but perhaps nowhere more than in Indian Country. Native Americans have been impacted by the pandemic more than any other community in the U.S., with a death rate almost twice that of white Americans. Due to the federal government’s failure to meet its treaty obligations to sufficiently fund basic services in exchange for vast amounts of Tribal land ceded long ago, these communities face chronic structural, economic, and health inequities — this includes challenges related to housing, healthcare, and of course food security.

Families living in Indigenous communities are twice as likely to experience food insecurity, even before the pandemic.

About one in four Native Americans participate in SNAP, and many others participate in a commodity box program called the Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations (FDPIR). However, many Native Americans experience hunger because of the simple and unjust fact that the federal government bars Tribes from administering critical nutrition programs like SNAP and school meals.

While COVID-19 has clearly shown how vulnerable Tribal communities are to public health emergencies, food insecurity, and economic downturn, it is remarkable to see that Tribal Nations responded more effectively than federal and state governments in many communities. Tribes took immediate action to protect their people by exercising sovereignty when states disputed their responses. While many states and non-Tribal citizens chose not to comply with CDC guidelines, many Tribes like Navajo Nation and Shinnecock Nation complied with CDC public health guidelines to keep their people safe. And with the arrival of vaccines, Tribes are navigating hurdles to efficiently and effectively vaccinate their people.

Tribes and Native communities have their own solutions — including for how to address food insecurity. The devastation of COVID-19 also underscores the importance of the growing Tribal food sovereignty movement, which aims to reclaim food systems, protect food traditions, and enable Tribes to feed themselves in good times and bad.

MAZON is proud to partner with Tribal leaders in seeking to strengthen food security, bolster and expand public health infrastructure, and build vibrant Tribal agricultural economies. Learn more and get involved at