Arizona Tribal leaders discuss pandemic during virtual conference

Christopher Lomahquahu

Gila River Indian News



As tribal communities across the nation address the COVID-19 pandemic, tribes in the state of Arizona recently discussed their efforts to bring down the number of positive cases on their tribal lands. Arizona State University’s Office of American Indian Initiatives hosted a virtual conference on Dec. 9-10, centered on Native communities in Arizona called the Indigenous Communities Response, Recovery, and Renewal in a Pandemic Era.


Native communities in Arizona have been hit the hardest by the pandemic and the agenda covered tribal response, plans for surges in cases and the financial impacts it has placed on tribal governments. 


Gila River Indian Community Gov. Stephen Roe Lewis, participated as well as Ned Norris Jr., Tohono O’odham Nation Chairman, Timothy Nuvangyaoma, Chairman for the Hopi Tribe and Gwendena Lee-Gatewood, Chairwoman for the White Mountain Apache Tribe.


“One advantage that we have is science and technology, that’s really helping us move things forward,” said Gov. Lewis about life during the pandemic. 


Lee-Gatewood said there are individuals who are able to check on some of their members, but that only goes so far when there are challenges in transportation and infrastructure to contact their tribal members. 

“The impact is there, it affects the elders,” said Lee-Gatewood.


Lee-Gatewood also said this is a time for families to come together, to teach children and family members new things about cooking, how to fix things and other important life skills. 


“[This] has such an enormous impact on how we are as people. This pandemic has really changed how we do things culturally and spiritually,” said Norris. 


He said Native people have lived through a lot of dire circumstances, but have prevailed even during the pandemic. 


Gov. Lewis said tribes have come together to support one another in times of crisis, but that it reveals long standing issues in tribal communities.


“We’ve lived with this disease for the past nine months. The virus itself has a way of amplifying things, those conditions that have been unaddressed in Indian Country,” said Gov. Lewis.