Klee Benally: COVID-19, Resource Colonialism & Indigenous Resistance

IndigenousAction.org, April 22, 2021

Note: This was originally written May 2020 & published in part in Black Seed #8. This version has been slightly revised & updated.

Diné Bikéyah (The Navajo Nation) has faced and endured the highest rate per-capita of COVID-19 cases than any settler colonial U.S. state.

As this respiratory virus wreaks havoc through these lands, mainstream media has again anointed our people as the mascots of poverty and victimization. The statistics are pounded loudly to evoke settler pity: Approximately 33% of our people have no running water or electricity. We live in a “food desert” with 13 grocery stores serving nearly 200,000 residents. Diné Bikéyah has approximately 50% unemployment. While these facts are not wrong, the solution is not more fundraisers for the “poor Indians.”

Has this pandemic impacted our people so disproportionately simply because we merely lack power lines and plumbing? Is it just because there aren’t massive corporate stores on every corner of our reservation? Would we really be that much more immune from this disease if every member of our tribe just had a job?

Dehumanizing narratives have always been part of the scenery here in the arid Southwest. If you blink on your way to the Grand Canyon, it’s easy to miss the ongoing brutal context of colonization and the expansion of capitalism. We live here and we even don’t see it ourselves. We’re too busy putting up that “Nice Indians Behind You” sign.

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