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University-Community Research Response to COVID-19 Insecurities on the Navajo Nation

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Full title: University-community Research Response to COVID-19 Amplified Food, Energy, and Water (FEW) Insecurities on the Navajo Nation

Speaker: Dr. Karletta Chief (Diné), Associate Professor & Extension Specialist in the Department of Environmental Science at the University of Arizona (UA)

COVID-19 amplified food, energy and water (FEW) insecurities across the world and disproportionately impacted Indigenous communities. In the United States, COVID-19 is rampant on the Navajo Nation, the largest tribe in the United States where poverty rates (38%) are more than twice the state of Arizona (15%). Navajo tribal officials cite lack of healthy foods and running water as reasons for the prolific transmission resulting in one of the highest COVID-19 infection rates in the United States, third only to New York and New Jersey.

The Navajo Nation is a rural food desert with only 13 grocery stores across the 25,000 square miles of remote terrain for a population of nearly 200,000 tribal citizens (8/sq.mi. on average). Comorbidities such as diabetes and cancer are prevalent due to environmental exposure from abandoned mines. In the United States, Native Americans have the highest rate of diabetes and arsenic-contaminated waters on tribal lands, including the Navajo Nation, increases the risk of diabetes, chronic kidney disease and cardiovascular health conditions. Furthermore, nearly 40% of remote Diné (Navajo) homes lack electricity and 30% lack running water.

The Diné haul water from potable and non-potable sources 5-50 miles away incurring an enormous expense of $13.30 per 100 gallons. Community resilience is critical for Diné communities to respond to and recover from perturbations such as pandemics and disasters.

This talk will focus on the university-community research response to address amplified FEW insecurities as a result of COVID-19 on the Navajo Nation stemming from a previous 3 year partnership with Diné College (the oldest tribal college in the U.S.) and a NSF Research Training Program called “Indigenous Food, Energy and Water Security and Sovereignty (Indige-FEWSS).”

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