By Fr. Benedict Mayaki, SJ
The US Catholic Bishops’ Conference has expressed their solidarity with Native and Indigenous communities who are disproportionately affected by coronavirus.
Bishop Shelton J. Fabre of Houma-Thibodaux and Chairman of the USCCB Ad Hoc Committee Against Racism, Archbishop Paul S. Coakley of Oklahoma City, the Chairman of the USCCB Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, and Bishop James S. Wall of Gallup and the Chairman of the USCCB Subcommittee on Native American Affairs issued a joint statement on Wednesday on the website of the US Bishops’ Conference.
“As Native Communities continue to greatly suffer from the Covid-19 epidemic,” reads the statement, “the Church is developing ways to draw upon its deep roots in the person of Jesus to foster strength, charity and support to those who are sick and those who have died.”
Situation of Native communities
The Bishops indicate that they are “heartbroken over reports that Native and Indigenous communities across this country are suffering at disproportionately high rates from the COVID-19 pandemic and [are]concerned about the lack of sufficient resources to respond to the crisis”.
“We are especially mindful of the Navajo Nation where people are being infected with the coronavirus at some of the highest rates in the country,” reads the Bishops’ statement.
They acknowledge the close connections that Catholic parishes, missions and schools have with Native Communities and indicate that they “stand with them in calling for a robust response to the pandemic in their lands.”
The Bishops observe that “the virus is exacerbating health disparities and long-standing social inequalities facing Native and Indigenous communities.” They give the example of the inadequate funding of the Indian Health Service and the reports of “shortages of medical personnel and hospital beds.”
The prelates, however, expressed hope that the U.S. Senate’s confirmation of a director for the Indian Health Service would create strong advocacy for the health needs of tribal communities. They also welcome the additional resources allocated for tribal communities in recent legislation and call for it to be put to immediate use.
Appeal to government and lawmakers
In view of the situation, the Bishops implore the government to “protect the life and dignity” of Native and Indigenous peoples. They also appeal for the protection and the provision of ample resources for indigenous communities living in urban areas. In this way, the government can address “underlying medical conditions that increase the threat of Covid-19 for Native populations.”