A broken system: Why the number of American Indian and Alaska Natives who have died during the coronavirus pandemic may never be known

This story is produced by the Indigenous Investigative Collective, a project of the Native American Journalists Association in partnership with High Country News, Indian Country Today, National Native News and Searchlight New Mexico. It was produced in partnership with MuckRock with the support of JSK-Big Local News. In May of 2020, the Navajo Nation reported one of the highest per-capita COVID-19 infection rates in the United States. Since that milestone, official data reveals that the Navajo Nation has been one of the hardest-hit populations during the pandemic. The Navajo Nation boasts the largest population of any Indigenous nation in the United States, and thousands of Navajos live outside the nation, in towns along the border, cities across the country, and in other parts of the world, making it difficult to tally the virus’ impacts on Navajo citizens.

Acoma Guv: No tribal consultation before IHS suspended services at medical facility

Acoma Pueblo Governor Brian Vallo said the federal government did not consult with pueblo leaders before deciding to end most of the healthcare services offered at a regional medical facility that serves roughly 9,000 Indigenous residents. 

Indian Health Service (IHS), which sits under the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, recently suspended most of the services offered at the Acoma-Cañoncito-Laguna (ACL) unit, including inpatient critical care and emergency room services, converting the facility into a “limited hour urgent care,” according to a press release from Acoma Pueblo. The facility will still offer COVID-19 testing, but will no longer accept patients or offer emergency room services. 

The facility serves Indigenous communities of Acoma Pueblo, Laguna Pueblo and the To’Hajiilee chapter of the Navajo Nation. The hospital serves roughly 9,000 Indigenous residents, and has a 25 inpatient bed capacity. 

The suspension of services comes as COVID-19 cases surge across the state and hospital bed capacity has quickly been filled. Vallo issued a state of emergency declaration on Nov. 6 in response to the closure.  

RELATED: State to reimpose shutdown starting Monday: ‘We are in a life or death situation’

“The closure of the Acoma-Canoncito-Laguna hospital by the Indian Health Services is one of the most devastating events to occur at our Pueblo, and could not have come at a worse time,” Vallo said during a press conference Monday.

Groups condemn forced hysterectomies in a Georgia detention facility

Nicole Martin, a sex education developer and co-founder of the grassroots reproductive rights organization Indigenous Women Rising (IWR), called forced hysterectomies reported by a whistleblower in a migrant detention facility in Georgia a crime against humanity. Martin, of Laguna Pueblo and Diné (Navajo Nation), likened the forced hysterectomies as “directly linked to genocide and colonization and white supremacy.” She said the forced hysterectomies make it impossible for migrant people to reproduce and “bring in more generations.”

“Their whole sense of being is stripped away from them. I can’t imagine how the people detained right now, how they’re coping or functioning or making it day by day. My heart really hurts for them. I can’t believe this is the world we’re living in,” Martin told NM Political Report.

New Mexico women can still get contraception coverage despite Supreme Court ruling

New Mexico women who need contraception are likely safe for now despite the U.S. Supreme Court’s 7-2 decision which will allow private companies to opt out of providing insurance coverage for it, according to the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico. A recent law passed in New Mexico enables women in the state to continue contraceptive coverage despite the court’s decision which now enables private companies to deny contraception coverage by citing moral or religious objections. But, Ellie Rushforth, reproductive rights attorney for the ACLU-NM warned, the future is uncertain. “It doesn’t mean we’re fully insulated from future issues related to this,” she said. The Supreme Court overturned a lower court’s decision on Wednesday in the case, Little Sisters of the Poor Saints Peter and Paul Home v. Pennsylvania.

In Gallup, surrounded by the Navajo Nation, a pandemic crosses paths with homelessness, hate and healers

GALLUP, N.M. — At the end of the Howard Johnson Hotel’s orange and white hallway, Dr. Caleb Lauber paused by a mirror as if he were lost. The mirror was an invention of the crafty security guards who’d leaned it against a chair, allowing them to quickly see around the corner in case any guests, all COVID-19 positive, should leave their rooms. Lauber worked 60, sometimes 80-hour weeks, caring for the homeless that Gallup had arranged to shelter at local hotels. He’d seen 500 of these patients in the past month. And now his memory was failing. “What’s the room number?” he asked his nursing assistant for the second time as they rounded the corner.  

This story originally appeared at Searchlight New Mexico and is republished here with permission.

Planting hope amid a plague

SHIPROCK, N.M. — Four miles down Farm Road, just off U.S. Route 491 in northern Navajo, a group of young Diné used what was left of daylight in early May to plant onions and potatoes on Yellow Wash Farm. As the novel coronavirus stretched its way through Navajoland, leaving a trail of heartbreak and uncertainty, the four Navajo men, a mixture of family and friends from Shiprock, picked up their seeds and broke the earth with their shovels. This story first appeared at Searchlight New Mexico and is republished with permission. By month’s end, the Navajo Nation would have the highest per-capita infection rate in the country, surpassing even New York state. The outbreak cut a swath across the vast reservation, from outposts in Arizona to the mesas and high desert in northwest New Mexico, where Shiprock, or Naatʼáanii Nééz — the largest Navajo community — became a hotspot seemingly overnight.

Masks sold by former White House official to Navajo hospitals don’t meet FDA standards

ProPublica is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom. Sign up for The Big Story newsletter to receive stories like this one in your inbox. The Indian Health Service acknowledged on Wednesday that 1 million respirator masks it purchased from a former Trump White House official do not meet Food and Drug Administration standards for “use in healthcare settings by health care providers.”

The IHS statement calls into question why the agency purchased expensive medical gear that it now cannot use as intended. The masks were purchased as part of a frantic agency push to supply Navajo hospitals with desperately needed protective equipment in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. ProPublica revealed last week that Zach Fuentes, President Donald Trump’s former deputy chief of staff, formed a company in early April and 11 days later won a $3 million contract with IHS to provide specialized respirator masks to the agency for use in Navajo hospitals.

Navajo mom feels the magnitude of the coronavirus

As COVID-19 causes crisis and panic across the nation, one Diné (Navajo) mom reflects on how the virus adds stress to an already impoverished people. Jana Pfeiffer, who lives in Albuquerque with her family, has been able to stock up on extra food during this time of crisis. Because she’s a state employee, she can also work from home while her two kids are out of school for the next three weeks. But back on the Navajo Nation, Pfeiffer’s extended family are in a much more tenuous situation. “I think I just feel the magnitude of this problem.

Getting an abortion during a global pandemic is still possible in New Mexico

So far, COVID-19, a type of coronavirus, has not impacted abortion care in New Mexico, but at least one advocate said the virus’ spread likely will affect the future of it. Whitney Phillips, Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains vice president of communications and brand experience, told NM Political Report by email Friday that the organization expects to see problems to occur as the global pandemic continues. “As states surrounding our region have been systematically shutting down access to reproductive health care, we’ve seen women traveling to New Mexico for care for some time now. While we haven’t begun to see the impacts of COVID-19 pandemic in our health centers, we believe it will happen,” Phillips wrote. Rachel Lorenzo, a co-founder of Indigenous Women Rising, which provides an abortion fund for Native people in the U.S. and Canada, said that as far as traveling goes for abortion care, there is “no fear,” for Indigenous people, despite the shutting down of schools, public events and public officials advice not to travel.