Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Not All First Language Speakers Trust Gates And Fauci's Forked Tongues

NYTimes |  The coronavirus has been particularly devastating for Indigenous communities. It has killed American Indians and Alaska Natives at nearly twice the rate of white people, and inflicted a cultural crisis by killing the elders who pass down language and traditional teachings. The economic toll of the pandemic has pummeled Native economies already racked by high poverty and unemployment.

The vaccine rollout in Native communities has been a surprising source of strength, especially as vaccinations of other communities, such as Black and Hispanic Americans, continue to lag behind white populations.

Working through the Indian Health Service and long-established networks of tribally run clinics, tribes are outpacing much of the country, already giving shots to healthy adults and eligible teenagers. Some have even thrown open the doors to nontribal members inside their borders.

In all, about 1.1 million vaccines have been distributed through the Indian Health Service and 670,000 have been administered. Still, health care advocates said frustrating gaps remained. Many Indigenous people in big cities and areas without tribal health centers had struggled to find vaccines.

Now, Native health workers are desperately hoping to get through to people like Nora Birdtail, 64, one of a shrinking number of Cherokee-speaking elders. Their names are marked down in a leather notebook that was created to inscribe their importance to Cherokee heritage and culture. Today, the notebook is a register of loss — of at least 35 lives and numberless stories cut short by the virus.

Even as hundreds of elders got vaccinated, Ms. Birdtail resisted. She is vulnerable to the coronavirus from a stroke. Her job as a teacher’s aide brings her into close contact with children at the Cherokee Immersion School, where in-person classes are expected to resume soon.

But Ms. Birdtail is scared of getting vaccinated, largely because she once passed out after getting a penicillin shot years ago. The government’s legacy of medical malpractice in Indian Country — a history of coercive treatments, shoddy care, forced sterilizations and more — has also instilled a deep skepticism about taking a government-supported vaccine.

“It made me think back to the Trail of Tears, how they all got sick,” Ms. Birdtail said. “I don’t trust it.”