Navajo Nation Sues For Fair Share Of Federal Coronavirus Aid Funds

By Holliday Moore, Laurel Morales
Published: Thursday, April 23, 2020 - 7:52am
Updated: Thursday, April 23, 2020 - 12:18pm

Navajo Nation land
Carrie Jung/KJZZ
Navajo Nation land.

The Navajo Nation makes up less than 5% of Arizona’s population, yet nearly a quarter of the state’s coronavirus infections are within the tribe.

Tribal leaders are suing the federal government for what they said is their fair share of coronavirus aid.

The Navajo Department of Health has confirmed 1,282 tribal members have tested positive for COVID-19 and 49 have died from it.

Tribal spokesman Jared Touchin said the tribe has spent $4 million from its own funds trying to defend against the disease.

Yet, funds, he said, are at a trickle from the multibillion-dollar Cures Act specifically designated for Native American tribes, and the tribe is waiting to hear whether it’s application is approved for a share of the $150 billion Coronavirus Relief Fund.

The first Navajo case appeared in mid-March and the coronavirus has since exploded across the Four Corners region. Part of the challenge is that multigenerational families often live in the same household and as many as a third of the homes on the reservation do not have running water.

Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez says the tribes shouldn’t have to share the funds with multibillion dollar, for-profit Alaska Native Corporations with non-native shareholders. 

Nez said in a statement, “we need to provide relief for our communities, not shareholders.” 

While the treasury secretary has not yet released a formula for dispersing the funds, the tribes are worried that including these corporations would take away from Native communities most in need of support. Per capita, the Navajo Nation has the third-highest coronavirus infection rate in the U.S. after New York and New Jersey. 

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