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COVID-19 devastates the Navajo Nation in the American West

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Reportage. Beauty and poverty pierce the Navajo Nation, but misery is the common fate of Native American reserves where 2.5 million indigenous people are practically confined. In New Mexico, the Navajo make up 1% of the population but account for 57% of the cases in the state.

written by Luca Celada

Topic U.S. Politics


May 22, 2020

The Monument Valley Health Center in Oljato is almost certainly the clinic with the most impressive view in the world. The modest building is located near the northern entrance of the Navajo reservation, between Mexican Hat and Kayenta, right on the border between Utah and Arizona.

From the windows overlooking the red landscape you can see the breathtaking mesas of the Monument Valley, which are photographed to excess by the continuous flow of tourists who normally crowd the small road leading to the valley that was made famous by John Ford’s westerns.

Today, the road is deserted, and the only human presence consists of the people in cars who are lined up for the swab test. The small clinic is one of only a dozen health facilities that serve a population of 350,000 Navajo (who call themselves D’ineh, “the people”).

Interstate 163 Oljato-Monument Valley in Utah, deserted – photo from AP

Beauty and miserable poverty are the defining traits of the Navajo Nation, the common name of the reservations where the two and a half million Native Americans are practically confined, prisoners of the most abject misery in a country where poverty in all its forms can be seen everywhere.

The unemployment rate on the Navajo reservation (straddling Arizona, New Mexico and Utah) reached peaks of 50% even before COVID. However, the pandemic added a macabre twist to the economic collapse.

In recent weeks, 3,100 positive cases have been detected in the reservation and more than 100 deaths have been recorded. For comparison, the........

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