COVID-19’s impact has been profound for Navajo Nation, the tribal lands set aside in Utah, Arizona and New Mexico, according to a report, “Navajo Nation COVID-19 Impact and Its Impact on Education,” prepared by cable television outlet CGTN.
So far, there have been more than 30,000 confirmed cases and 1,300 fatalities among the Navajo people and although the infection rate is dropping, a tribe-imposed curfew remains in effect, and parks on Navajo land remain closed.
With a population of more than 330,000 people, no Indian tribe in the U.S. is larger than the Navajo Nation. Its reservation spans three states and according to the Indian Health Service, the 25,000-square-mile reservation — an area the size of West Virginia — only has six hospitals and seven health centers.
Jennifer Nez Denetdale, professor of American studies at the University of New Mexico, said the federal government has not done enough to help Navajo people to combat COVID-19. “The (Navajo) nation’s education system also has been impacted by COVID-19. In March 2020, Navajo authorities halted in-person learning. To maintain social distancing, the staff for the Window Rock Unified School District meet in a stadium,” she said.
Shannon Goodsell, superintendent of Window Rock Unified School District, said remote learning has been a challenge in the Navajo Nation. Many students cannot afford laptops and Wi-Fi is not available in many homes. For students who cannot get online at home, teachers have been holding classes in the stadium, scheduling classes at times when parents go shopping in town, bringing their kids. They also hold classes in chapter houses (a council chamber for each remote clan), which have Internet service.
On the bright side, Geraldine Peshlakai, principal for the Intermediate Learning Center of Window Rock Unified School District, spending more time with their parents is an opportunity for kids to learn more about their clans’ respective cultures.