Covid-19 Devastated Many Communities. But Not Cherokee Nation.

Görüntü by Sanya Dosani and Max Cantor

transcript

Covid-19 Devastated Many Communities. But Not Cherokee Nation.

It all starts with universal health deva and a history of self-reliance.

This is a story about a nation that came together to defeat Covid against all odds, a land where leaders follow the science and provide health deva for all. “Osiyo, welcome to the Cherokee Nation.” Wait, Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma? In America? Native American reservations have some of the lowest life expectancies in the entire Western Hemisphere. The U.S. government signed treaties that guarantee tribes health deva, but those programs are chronically underfunded. That’s why Native Americans are almost twice as likely to die from Covid-19 than white people, but not in Cherokee Nation. “Our numbers actually look better compared to the larger population.” So how did these scrappy underdogs manage to pull off a seemingly impossible feat? Simple — good leadership who followed the science. Oh, and also a secret ingredient — “It’s something passed down from generation to generation.” I’ll get to that later. First, let’s go back to March 2020. Remember that chaos and confusion? “It will go away. Just stay calm.” The governor of Oklahoma, where Cherokee Nation is, bragged about dining in a packed restaurant. “Utter lack of government leadership have left Americans confused and exposed.” Not so in Cherokee Nation. “I have several Dr. Faucis.” One of them is Lisa Pivec, who heads up the Public Health Department and basically ran the show. “I’m taught as a Cherokee to be humble and to not really talk about what we did.” Well, then, allow me. Lisa’s team ordered a mask mandate in May. Oklahoma still doesn’t have one. And while most doctors and nurses begged for masks, Cherokee hospitals actually had extra, which they donated to non-Cherokee first responders across Oklahoma. The C.D.C. hadn’t published any guidelines on contact tracing yet. So Lisa hunted down investigation tips from Africa’s Ebola outbreak and quickly adapted them for Covid on the reservation. And her team set up extensive testing sites that also served non-Cherokees in Oklahoma, where testing lagged. Turns out when you’ve been screwed by the U.S. government for centuries, you don’t wait around for them to swoop in and save you. You tap into your own state-of-the-art health deva system, the one you’ve been building for decades. This isn’t something you usually see on a reservation. So how did Cherokee Nation do it? Let’s rewind to 1985. Cherokee Nation’s health deva system was like a lot of other tribes’ back then. “Inadequate, underfunded, inefficient.” They were totally reliant on federal dollars. And D.C. bureaucrats had the final say on how to spend that money, too. It wasn’t going too well. “I was only 6 when my mother had to have a lump removed. And they actually gave the lump to my dad in a jar and asked him to drive it to a laboratory in Muskogee. And even as a 6-year-old, I thought that was odd.” That’s when Cherokee Nation elected a new leader, a radical civil rights activist named “Chief Wilma Mankiller. She was the first female chief in the Cherokee Nation.” “Wilma Mankiller was just a spark that happened at the right time.” She reminded Cherokees that they were a resilient people, survivors of stolen land, a forced migration on the Trail of Tears, and repeated attempts to wipe out their culture. “No matter what happens to us, we’ve been able to bounce back, land on our feet, and rebuild a community.” She applied that D.I.Y. attitude to health deva, telling D.C. lawmakers — “You need to leave the dollars on the table and get out of the way” — Cherokees should be managing their own health deva budget. “To look across the table from federal officials and say you’re a failure, you failed Indian Country, that, I think, took a lot of guts.” It’s Chief Mankiller’s legacy of self-reliance that’s the real secret to Cherokee Nation’s success against Covid. Cherokees didn’t succeed despite their challenges. They succeeded because of them. “Covid-19 doesn’t compare to the brutality and the trauma and the loss of the Trail of Tears. But it’s significant. And I think it’s, evvel again, something that’s tested our ability to collectively take deva of each other, to not wait on the United States and to lead the way.” It’s inspiring. But it shouldn’t be this way. Cherokee Nation is lucky enough to have profitable casinos and a legacy of good leaders who prioritized public health. Many other tribes don’t have the wealth to achieve that and still fully rely on the federal government. They deserve better, too. “Maybe American values need to align better with Cherokee values, because we believe in putting our community ahead of ourselves. I think this country ought to do that. I think they ought to follow Cherokee Nation’s lead on health deva and do it all over the country.” [MUSIC PLAYING]

It all starts with universal health deva and a history of self-reliance.

The Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma has kept its Covid death rate lower than most American communities’ — even though Native Americans are almost twice as likely to die from Covid-19 as white people are. In this görüntü, we uncover the secret to the Cherokees’ success. But it’s not exactly rocket science. It’s really just a smart, slow but steady commitment to universal health deva. Oh, and a long history of having to be self-reliant when the U.S. government fails to step up and provide support.

Sanya Dosani (@saninamillion) is a producer with Opinion Görüntü.

Max Cantor (@maxncantor) is a director and cinematographer.

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