Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has equally nondescript strategies for assisting tribes as major revenue losses follow the closing of the casinos. Tribal lands are not exempt from the virus. Thirty-nine cases of COVID-19 have been reported in Navajo Nation, according to reporting by the Navajo Times.
On March 18, New Mexico In Depth reported Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez asking tourists to “stay at home” as tourist areas closed. Leaders are not waiting for the state to offer help. On Friday, the Navajo Nation Council passed legislation asking Lujan Grisham for access to Medicaid dollars to fight the spread of the virus.
Lujan Grisham’s spokesman Tripp Stelnicki writes SFR via email Monday that it’s “hard to be specific about financial assistance for tribes or any entity, as we want to see what the federal package looks like before the state starts making wide-scale plans.”
While state departments wait to see what happens on the federal level, US Sen. Tom Udall, D-NM, hopes to pass the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Tribal Public Health Security and Preparedness Act as part of the Senate’s third Coronavirus relief package.
New Mexico’s plan does, and the pueblos can continue with their PHEP partnerships with the state. But the bill would allow the pueblos to exercise tribal sovereignty and administer the program directly to their members if they wanted to. Examples of reasons why tribes would choose this option include if they are not receiving sufficient resources for tribal public health emergency planning, supplies, or staffing.
Back in Santa Fe, Marvin Gabaldón, a data technician and leader of the Indigenous Peoples’ Club at Santa Fe Community College, tells SFR many of his Indigenous students’ are worried about not being able to fly back to their reservations in the Dakotas and Montana and about the state of tribal economies following the closing of casinos.
"My tribe, we have gas stations, we have construction, we have government contracts, so I think we're fine," Gabaldón, of Ohkay Owingeh, tells SFR. "For Easter we're supposed to dance and we haven't heard anything if we're gonna do it or not. The funny thing is, the dances are about prayer, it's about healing, but because this virus is so scary, I don't know if they'll allow it. The real traditional people think we're not supposed to make changes in how we do things. There's a conflict there in itself. We'll have to see."