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Navajo leaders quarantine as Native nation prepares for curfew

Apr 10, 2020, 3:45 PM
Navajo curfew...
THOREAU, NEW MEXICO - JUNE 06: Marie Jones, a member of the Navajo Nation, receives her monthly water delivery in the town of Thoreau on June 06, 2019 in Thoreau, New Mexico. Due to disputed water rights and other factors, up to 40 percent of Navajo Nation households don’t have clean running water and are forced to rely on weekly and daily visits to water pumps. The problem for the Navajo Nation, a population of over 200,000 and the largest federally-recognized sovereign tribe in the U.S., is so significant that generations of families have never experienced indoor plumbing. Rising temperatures associated with global warming have worsened drought conditions on their lands over recent decades. The reservation consists of a 27,000-square-mile area of desert and high plains in New Mexico, southern Utah and Arizona. The Navajo Water Project, a nonprofit from the water advocacy group Dig Deep, has been working on Navajo lands in New Mexico since 2013 funding a mobile water delivery truck and digging and installing water tanks to individual homes. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
(Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

NAVAJO NATION– Two leaders of the largest Native American reservation in the U.S. are in self-quarantine as the Navajo Nation prepares for a weekend-long curfew aimed at curbing the coronavirus outbreak.

The virus has swept with ferocity through the Navajo Nation, which spans parts of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah. The tribe has recorded more than 550 cases and 22 deaths among Navajos who live on the 27,000-square-mile (70,000-square-kilometer) reservation.

Navajo President Jonathan Nez and Vice President Myron Lizer announced Thursday during a town hall that they are quarantining themselves as a precaution after being in close proximity with a first responder who later tested positive. They say they donned masks and gloves while visiting communities and are following protocols to isolate.

The virus can infect anyone and should not be taken lightly, Nez said.

“Let’s not lose hope, but let’s face the reality that this virus is going to be around for several more months and we have to deal with it by making smart decisions and with prayer,” he said.

Their decision comes as the tribe prepares for the 57-hour reservation-wide curfew that will begin Friday at 8 p.m. Strict enforcement has been promised, with Navajo police able to issue citations that may include fines up to $1,000 or jail time.

“The more people continue to go out into public, the longer we will have to stay home,” Lizer said.

Access to health care and medical supplies already is a concern on the Navajo Nation and in other tribal communities in the southwestern U.S that have seen spikes in the number of cases over the past week.

A philanthropic effort announced by former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson is the latest aimed at getting more supplies to the Navajo Nation. The National Guard in Arizona and New Mexico also have helped with the response on the reservation.

The Navajo Nation Council, which serves as the tribe’s legislative body, was holding a special session Friday to consider legislation related to the outbreak. One measure would postpone elections for local tribal officials for a year, while another would address price gouging during a state of emergency.

Noting the high number of cases on the reservation, former Navajo president and chairman Peterson Zah said his community has resorted to curfews appropriately to avoid panic but the reaction to the first faraway U.S. coronavirus outbreaks was too gradual.

“It’s like rain — you’re way out in the desert, like on the Navajo Nation, and you look out during the summer and you know that the rain is coming because the clouds are billowing up and you’ve got to prepare,” he said from his home in the Navajo capital of Window Rock, Arizona. “People started running around when it started raining. Before the rain came, we should have been all in sync with one another.”

Another complication has been disparate public health orders in the states that border the Navajo Nation.
New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham noted that school closures and stay-at-home orders came much earlier in her state than in neighboring Arizona and that officials with the Bureau of Indian Education didn’t immediately close schools. She’s pushing for a more coordinated effort in the region.
___
Montoya Bryan reported from Albuquerque, N.M., and Lee from Santa Fe, N.M.

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Navajo leaders quarantine as Native nation prepares for curfew