Made to Fail
Chapter Five: Polluted in Arizona
In May of 2020, the Navajo Nation made national headlines with the highest per capita Covid-19 infection rate in the United States, outpacing New York City. Frontline Navajo workers, many of them relatives and neighbors of those infected, rushed to save the most vulnerable. Already, residents of the Navajo Nation face higher rates of preexisting conditions. The grim situation highlights the historical failings of the US government.
Over 150 years after the treaty signing between the Navajo Nation and the federal government, the latter has attempted practically every method to siphon resources away from the former. This is especially true when it comes to water, a basic human right, that’s been contaminated on Navajo land for decades. After struggling with the repercussions of this contamination (the Navajo Nation has one of the highest cancer rates in the country) today, it’s estimated that between 30 and 50% of Navajo families live without access to clean running water. The infamous scorched-earth campaigns of the 1860’s never really ended. It’s just taken a global pandemic to expose that truth to the rest of us.
This is only one of the environmental injustices on the reservation, and unfortunately, these injustices are not unique to the Navajo Nation. In fact, most vulnerable communities in the United States face them everyday. And the connections between the environment, race, and the Covid-19 crisis are fatal.