Native Peoples in the Coronavirus Pandemic: America’s Genocidal Treatment



From a reader:

The 2020 pandemic has begun to shine a spotlight on the gross inequalities within the fabric of U.S. society. It is exposing some of the disproportionate suffering by its Black and Brown populations, even as it is still a partial picture as many states do not provide comprehensive data on who is being affected. Yet the terrible toll on the Native peoples gets little mention in official briefings and reporting.

It has come out that the Navajo Native American reservation (formally known as the Navajo Nation) has the highest coronavirus infection rate outside New York and New Jersey.1 If it were a state, the Navajo Nation would rank third in the U.S. for confirmed cases per 100,000.2 The reservation is the size of West Virginia and stretches over more than 27,000 square miles across Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah. While Navajo people are less than 6% of Arizona’s population, by May 10, they had over 20% of the state’s confirmed coronavirus cases and nearly 22% of related deaths; and while Native Americans make up about 10% of New Mexico’s population, they are over 57% of coronavirus cases.3

Today, the great majority of Native people live in urban areas, with the highest populations in New York City and Los Angeles. But what have we heard of how the pandemic is afflicting them inside these cities? Many states do not separate out Native American cases and deaths but simply list them as “other.”4 The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) had constantly cited only 40% of the coronavirus cases with “race specific” tracking, with 60% not thus tracked. This prompted independent forces such as The Antiracist Research & Policy Center at American University to step into the breach to do the necessary data collection to expose the real picture.

Even before this 2020 pandemic, there were pre-existing conditions of extreme poverty, high unemployment, and food shortages on the Navajo reservation. A long trail of broken treaties and broken promises has created a lack of basic infrastructure for health, education, communications, housing, agricultural assistance, and overall economic development. For example, 30% of Navajo Nation homes have no running water on its vast rural and desert terrain where some homes take hours of driving to reach. Many Navajos live in trailers or other substandard and over-crowded housing, with no heat except wood burning stoves, with no reliable electricity, internet, or even TV. It had 13 supermarkets for over 350,000 people where some people drive 150 miles to grocery shop.

Life for one family on the Navajo reservation typifies this shantytown-like existence: “Lisa Robbins runs the generator attached to her family’s mobile home for just a few hours most mornings. With no electricity, it provides heat in this rural high-desert stretch of the Navajo Nation where overnight temperatures often linger in the low 30s this time of year.”5

Centuries of enforced neglect and deprivation have left the Native peoples with higher rates of cancer, asthma, heart disease, and diabetes than among any other grouping of people in the U.S. Uranium mining on Native lands has resulted in high rates of lung disease among its people. In previous epidemics, such as the 2009 H1N1 (swine flu) outbreak, Native Americans’ death rate was four times the combined rate of all the other oppressed (or “racial”) groups in the U.S.6

The Indian Health Service (IHS) has been historically underfunded and understaffed. Hospitals are few and far apart for the Navajo reservation. Going into this pandemic, the Navajo Nation reportedly had only 170 hospital beds, 13 intensive-care unit (ICU) beds, 52 isolation rooms, and 28 ventilators. The entire IHS, which serves 2.5 million Native people, including those in Alaska, reported having 71 ventilators and 33 ICU beds at its 24 hospitals.7 As of May 7, the IHS reported over 3,000 confirmed cases among the Navajos.

Such conditions make it difficult if not impossible to carry out constant hand washing, social distancing within the home, or having resources to stock up extra food and supplies. Lack of hospital beds means infected people are sent home, making community spread much worse. Recently, after several Navajo family outbreaks, about 150 COVID-19 patients are temporarily housed in three converted community gyms on the reservation, and not being sent home.

The news of this 2020 pandemic was understandably, even if erroneously, met with initial skepticism and doubt among Native people. This flows from the genocidal history where diseases from European colonizers, such as smallpox, were deliberately introduced by the U.S. government into Native populations who had no immunity for it at the time. But one thing Native people share with the rest of the U.S. population is a scarcity of testing but an abundance of rumors and anti-science disinformation, such as that Navajos couldn’t get the coronavirus.

All the toxic pre-conditions and unequal treatment of Native people during the pandemic are not an aberration but a continuation of a history of genocidal treatment on land that was brutally stolen from them. Christopher Columbus recorded in his log about his encounter with the Native people in the Caribbean, who had welcomed him with food and gifts, and his plan for conquest:

...They do not bear arms, and do not know them....They have no iron. Their spears are made of cane... . They would make fine servants.... With fifty men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want8

And the white supremacists who founded this country shamelessly decided what would shape the lives and deaths of generations and generations of Native people. As Bob Avakian pointed out:

In the Declaration of Independence, among the things for which the King of England is condemned, is the accusation that he promoted slave rebellions (“excited domestic Insurrections amongst us”) and “endeavoured to bring on the Inhabitants of our Frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages.”9

It was America that unleashed a trail of bloody colonization and ethnic cleansing with land thefts, broken treaties and broken promises, massacres, and other means of genocide that nearly wiped out the Native people on "its" territory—which was part of an even larger genocide throughout the Americas which killed tens of millions. Who are the real “merciless savages”?10

The long history of the oppression of Native peoples cannot be reformed out of this system, but can and must come to an end through a new communist revolution based upon the liberating future laid out in the Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America authored by Bob Avakian (see sidebar). It is way past time for all this to end through a real revolution whose goal and concrete strategy is the emancipation of all humanity. This pandemic not only reveals the obscene nature of America. It also indicates an urgent need to invite all to become organized participants in an ACTUAL revolution that frees humanity from such senseless suffering.


1. “Navajo Nation Sees High Rate Of COVID-19 And Contact Tracing Is A Challenge NPR, April 24, 2020.   [back]

2. “Native Americans being left out of US coronavirus data and labelled as ‘other.’” Guardian. April 24, 2020.  [back]

3. The COVID Racial Data Tracker, The COVID Tracking Project.  [back]

4. The COVID Racial Data Tracker.  [back]

5. No running water. No electricity. On Navajo Nation, coronavirus creates worry and confusion as cases surge, Kurtis Lee, Los Angeles Times, March 29, 2020.  [back]

6. No running water. No electricity. On Navajo Nation, coronavirus creates worry and confusion as cases surge.  [back]

7. The Navajo Nation’s coronavirus infection and death rates are 10 times higher than the neighboring state of ArizonaBusiness Insider, April 20, 2020.  [back]

8. A People’s History of the United States, Howard Zinn (1980). Chapter 1, page 1.  [back]


10. “European colonization of the Americas killed 10 percent of world population and caused global cooling,”, March 31, 2019. Public Radio International (PRI) program The World’s best estimate was a death toll of 56 million by the beginning of the 1600s—90 percent of the pre-Columbian indigenous population and around 10 percent of the global population at the time. Jared Diamond in Guns, Germs and Steel estimated the original Native population to be 20 million and the death rate in the first century or two to be 95% (p. 211).  [back]

Vehicles line up for COVID-19 testing outside of the Monument Valley Health Center in Oljato, Utah, April 17. The Navajo Nation has one of the highest per capita COVID-19 infection rates in the country. (Photo: AP/Kristin Murphy)

30% of Navajo Nation homes have no running water. This situation was made worse after an order restricting traffic prevented people from hauling water from Gallup, NM. Here water is being distributed from the water well owned by the St. Bonaventure Indian Mission, Albuquerque, NM. (Photo: Albuquerque Journal/Roberto E. Rosales)

American Crime

See all the articles in this series, including:

Excerpt on Native Americans, from the Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America (Draft Proposal)

Authored by Bob Avakian, and adopted by the Central Committee of the RCP

C. Native Americans.

1. The conquest, domination, plunder and life-stealing exploitation carried out by European colonialism in the Americas–including by the European settlers who founded the United States of America and expanded its reach on the North American continent through force and violence, as well as deception and other means–had a massive genocidal impact, decimating and devastating the populations of the first inhabitants of the Americas. As the boundaries of the USA were continuously expanded through conquest–and huge numbers of Native Americans were killed or died off due to this armed expansionism and the destruction of their way of life, the spread of diseases common among Europeans for which the Native Americans had no immunity, and other factors–most of the Native Americans who survived were forced onto reservations that were encircled and controlled by the forces of the imperialist state.

2. The defeat of this imperialist state has opened the way to overcoming the effects and legacy of this terrible history. As one key expression of the importance it attaches to this, the New Socialist Republic in North America shall ensure that the right of autonomy of Native American peoples within this Republic is upheld; and, beyond that, wherever autonomous regions of Native Americans may be established, in the general vicinity of the historical homelands of the various native peoples, the central government will also act to ensure that these autonomous regions not only have the necessary territories but also the resources that will enable a real flourishing of these peoples, within the overall framework of the New Socialist Republic in North America. The central government of the New Socialist Republic in North America will provide special assistance and support to any Native American autonomous regions, on the basis of the principles and objectives set forth in this Constitution.

3. This special assistance and support shall be especially important with regard to Native American autonomous regions, but also with regard to concentrations of Native Americans in urban areas and other parts of this Republic–where autonomous Native American areas may also be set up–and with regard to the Native American population as a whole.

Such special assistance and support will also be of great importance, and shall be extended, to all the formerly oppressed peoples, and any autonomous regions and areas of these peoples, within the New Socialist Republic in North America.

Check out the Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America (Draft Proposal) and order it online.




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