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Weeks of delay in the delivery of crucial medical supplies against the coronavirus aggravated the already catastrophic situation of the American Indian tribes, the president of the Navajo Nation, very critical of the actions of the Donald Trump government, told ..

“We could have gone much faster,” said Jonathan Nez.

The sun is setting on Casamero Lake, where the 44-year-old leader coordinates a relief distribution operation for his tribe in the American West.

Of the $ 8 billion pledged to America’s tribes as part of a $ 2 trillion recovery plan arranged in late March, Nez says the first tranche was unlocked just a few days ago.

“We could have installed alternative care centers,” he insists, referring to medical facilities where people with moderate cases of covid-19 can recover without having to go home, with the risks that this entails.

These settlements are particularly essential in Native American tribes, where multiple generations often live under the same roof, increasing the rate of spread among older people.

The Navajo Nation, founded in 1868, has 175,000 inhabitants spread across a desert territory with majestic canyons, straddling Utah, New Mexico, and Arizona.

More than 4,200 of them have tested positive for the coronavirus. The tribe deplores 146 deaths related to covid-19, a higher per capita death rate than most states in the country.

Without that delay, this balance could have been less, regrets Nez.

– Promises –

As he points to the volunteers who load the residents’ trucks with food, water and cleaning products behind him, he adds: “That is not even money that comes from the federal government.”

Dressed in a yellow vest with reflective stripes, he celebrates being able to count on the support of what he calls “the friends of the Navajo Nation.”

Under his presidency, Barack Obama created a high-level council on Native American issues to improve White House relations with tribes.

The organization was dissolved by Donald Trump when he came to power.

The group was relaunched two weeks ago, too late for Nez.

But the problems faced by the country’s natives also date from before the current administration, he acknowledges.

Like other tribes, the Navajo abandoned gigantic territories in exchange for the promise that the federal state would provide free education and health, in perpetuity.

But according to many experts, the promise was never fully fulfilled.

When the United States began supplying water to households in the early 20th century, a large part of indigenous territory was left aside.

Currently, about 30% of the inhabitants of the Navajo Nation do not have access to running water, while health authorities repeatedly insist on the need to combat the virus by washing their hands.

The federal agency in charge, the Indigenous Health Service, suffers from a chronic lack of funds that leaves the Navajo without the necessary infrastructure and personnel to face a pandemic of this magnitude.

Navajo vulnerability is finally explained by chronic diseases often linked to poverty: heart, lung or diabetes problems also contributed to the high mortality rate.

Projections suggest that coronavirus infections will soon peak here after authorities put in place rigorous measures of mask use and a strict curfew at night and on weekends.

About 13% of the population has undergone the diagnostic test and contact tracking teams are redoubling their efforts to keep the progress of the epidemic under control.

According to Jonathan Nez, the Navajo Nation has now received $ 600 million in aid. Almost 40% more are still waiting due to bureaucratic delays, but plan to invest it in longer-term projects. His intention is to be able to reactivate the economy and initiate infrastructure projects to expand access to water and the internet.

“We are not going to feel sorry for ourselves,” says the leader, recalling that the Navajo have always overcome episodes of epidemics and colonial oppression. “We are resilient.”