The Seattle Indian Health Board, which helps provide medical care for about 6,000 people a year in Seattle and King County, has been badly hit by the coronavirus pandemic. With their community badly affected, they reached out to the government for tests and other medical supplies.
They got a shipment of body bags.
"My team turned ghost white," said Esther Lucero, chief executive officer of the Seattle Indian Health Board. "We asked for tests, and they sent us a box of body bags."
The bags, which Lucero said were likely sent as a mistake, are white with beige tags that read "attach to toe." They were a macabre reminder of the realities that many Native communities have had to face during this epidemic. With their communities suffering from the outbreaks, the bags are a stark reminder that their needs aren't considered a priority.
"The Navajo Nation is in a crisis with cases, and there are tribes and other Indian organizations across the country that are in similar crises and can use medical supplies and help instead of watching people die," Abigail Echo-Hawk, the health board's chief research officer, said. "This is a metaphor for what's happening."
This comes on the heels of a plan by the Federal government to distribute billions of dollars to indigenous communities in panic-relief funds, which had been delayed due to legal disputes. The U.S. government has an obligation to provide health care to all Native Americans as stipulated in longstanding treaties with the tribes. In those earliest days, when the aid was most critical, the center relied on donations from inside the community, especially with Native-owned companies like Eighth Generation.
"My questions is: Are we going to keep getting body bags or are we going to get what we actually need?" Echo-Hawk said.
The Seattle Indian Health Board is one of 41 urban health programs under the federal Indian Health Service, which provides health care access to about 2.5 million American Indians and Alaska Natives. They are vitally important to people's health as POC communities are hit 4 times harder on average than white communities.
"We need to have the correct resources and be included at the state and federal level," Echo-Hawk said. "Until then, Native organizations like mine are going to push forward to create the resources needed for us and by us."