Navajo Nation

“If Navajo Nation were its own state, it would have the highest per-capita rate of confirmed positive coronavirus cases in the country, behind only New York.” (PBS News Hour) As of today—May 14, 2020, at 2:45 p.m. Pacific Time, 3,392 of its 356,890 citizens have tested positive; 119 have died.

When you say “American Indian” in the rest of the world, the image that comes to most minds seems to be Navajo or Sioux. And even in our own country most of us do not know much about the diversity of custom, religion, livelihood, and language among Indians. Most of the time, we don’t much acknowledge their continuing existence—they are the “Vanishing Indians” of 1900—vanished.

Alvin Josephy wrote strenuously about these omissions in our textbooks—and consciousness. He said that many people still thought that “Indian” was a language shared across the continent. And, my guess, uttered gutturally ala Tonto!

The Navajo have been an anchor against the Sioux myth—the idea that all American Indians rode the plains with feathered headdress. (The Sioux were not originally plains-dwellers, and the horse came to them from Europe—but that is another story!) And they have been and are a reminder that Indians are still with us.

The Navajo code-talkers became heroes in WW II—a proud reminder. But it was years later, when I read about Chester Nez, the last of the WW II Marine code-talkers, that I learned that there were other code-talkers from other tribes—going back to WW I! It was the Choctaw who started the practice in that earlier war. How soon we forget—especially when it comes to Indians.

Fry bread, identified now by many as a pan-American Indian food, was brought to us by the Navajo. If you know that much, do you know the origins of it in the “Long Walk”? Or know the Long Walk? The Cherokee Trail of Tears is better known. The Long Walk followed it by a few decades, as the United States marched south and west, acquiring lands from Mexico and the Indian nations. Kit Carson, that legendary Indian fighter married to an Indian, conducted a “scorched earth” policy, destroying Navajo villages and then leading their forced removal:

“… 8,500 men, women and children were marched almost 300 miles from northeastern Arizona and northwestern New Mexico to Bosque Redondo, a desolate tract on the Pecos River in eastern New Mexico. Traveling in harsh winter conditions for almost two months, about 200 Navajo died of cold and starvation. More died after they arrived at the barren reservation. The forced march, led by Kit Carson, became known by the Navajo as the ‘Long Walk.’” (

They were apparently provided flour, sugar, salt and lard by the government on that awful trek, and out of it fashioned fry bread. Fry bread is still with us; so are the Navajo.

Indians from other tribes are suffering inordinately from the COVID, and like the Navajo there are reasons for their dire straits. They are poor; their water is poor—or their water has been stolen for irrigation or, like Navajo water, contaminated by strip mining and exhausted in slurries on its way to power plants.

And there is genetics—although most of my liberal friends do not want to talk about genetics, fearing that such talk will take away from efforts to right environmental conditions.

That’s good, but if a higher percentage of Americans of Scottish or Irish or German stock were dying with COVID, or with sickle cell anemia or measles, my guess is that we would be looking for genetic factors and trying to solve the riddle of viruses entering some cells more easily than they do others.

But there is a study, based on computer modeling and not field testing, of  authors of genes and COVID. The authors conclude the study with this statement: “To the best of our knowledge, this is the first study to evaluate the relationship between viral proteins across a wide range of HLA alleles.” (

They obviously had not read Charles Mann’s 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus, or, more importantly, Yale virologist Francis Black, who did field studies in the 1960s and 70s among South American Indians.

Maybe now someone will study the Navajo—or some other tribe. Indians, and latinx who share so much of their genetic heritage, are still with us.

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