Story at a glance:
- Native American tribes are implementing mask requirements in states where local leaders have banned mask mandates in schools.
- Native American communities have some of the highest vaccine rates in the country.
- A handful of U.S. states are implementing or working to implement bans on mask mandates in schools.
In states where local leaders have banned mask requirements in schools, Native American tribes are using their authority to implement their own rules around masks, testing and vaccines, The Guardian reports.
Jason Dropik, board president of the National Indian Education Association, told The Guardian that most Native communities he’s been in contact with have implemented mask mandates despite statewide bans. He also told the outlet that part of the motivation for implementing their own safety measures is because of how the pandemic has hit some Native communities.
“When we have loss, and we have it every year, even outside of a pandemic, but when you increase that amount of loss, there are ways of being that just don’t continue to be taught, and that can be lost completely,” said Dropik.
“It’s not solely a matter of someone’s life, which is in and of itself hugely impactful, but also those ways of being, cultural traditions, language and work that also sometimes pass with our Native speakers,” he added.
Native Americans have some of the highest vaccination rates in the country. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report that Native Americans are 24 percent more likely than white people to be fully vaccinated, 31 percent more likely than Latinos, 64 percent more likely than African Americans and 11 percent more likely than Asian Americans, according to The Los Angeles Times.
“We were extremely aggressive with our vaccination rates very early,” Loretta Christensen, chief medical officer of the federal Indian Health Service, told The L.A. Times. “We had that all on board already, certainly before the Delta variant escalated, so then we’ve kept our cases down.”
“This has been just a tremendous effort across all of Indian Country to take care of our people,” she added.
Oklahoma, Utah, Arizona, Iowa and South Carolina have mask mandate bans in schools. In Florida, Texas and Arkansas, mask bans are currently being challenged so they are not being enforced, according to The Guardian.
Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez told The Guardian that students and staff are following the mask requirement in their schools. He attributes the success in part to the tribe not politicizing COVID-19.
“With any war, any battles, you got to be equipped, you got to have your armor, and you got to have your weapons,” he said. “And one of the armors that we have is the vaccine. And one of the weapons that we have is the mask and the hand sanitizers. And so we framed it in that way to where our elders can understand what we’re dealing with. And they assisted and helped us talk to our younger generation.”
The Navajo Nation reports more than 70 percent of its members who live on the reservation are fully vaccinated, according to Christensen and The L.A. Times.
The CDC reports that 52.4 percent of the general population is vaccinated against COVID-19.
READ MORE STORIES FROM CHANGING AMERICA