discrimination against indigenous people covid-19

Indigenous Peoples Denounce Discriminatory Response to COVID-19

The United States of America was founded on stolen land. The legacy of violence, discrimination, and criminal disregard for indigenous people continues today. 


April 7, 2020

The undersigned Indigenous peoples and organizations write this letter to denounce the discriminatory response to COVID-19 and express our deep concern of the situation faced by hundreds of thousands of diverse Indigenous peoples of the immigrant community in the United States (U.S.), those in detention centers under the custody of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), those surviving in makeshift camps on the northern Mexico border under the U.S. government’s Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP), who are being systematically excluded in the COVID-19 pandemic response mechanisms.

We recognize that the global COVID-19 pandemic is affecting people indiscriminately. However, we highlight that the most vulnerable are the most affected and devastated by this pandemic: those living in extreme poverty and chronic malnutrition who are unable to access or pay for medical care, the undocumented, and those with limited English and/or Spanish languages, as they cannot understand the information about COVID-19 and/or express their medical and financial needs during this pandemic.

The lack of recognition of our Indigenous identity and the exclusion of our languages at the local, national, and international levels puts our lives at risk, threatens the survival of our People, and violates our rights of self-determination, autonomy and to be free from any kind of discrimination.

Language exclusion is illegal due to Executive Order 13166 regulating access to services provided to Persons with Limited English Proficiency (LEP) by federal departments, their agencies and the organizations contracted by them.

The Departments of Homeland Security (DHS), Health and Human Services (HHS), and The Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) of The United States Department of State (DOS) program etc., are excluding our peoples and communities at the Southern border and throughout the U.S.

Specifically, the rights established in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), describe the minimum human rights standards such as the right to revitalize and use our languages (Art. 13), establish and use the media in our own languages (Art. 16), the right to better economic and social conditions, such as health, (Art. 21) and the right to determine and develop priorities in all areas, including health (Art. 23).

We are deeply concerned that these minimum standards are not met and as a result, our peoples are being excluded from essential information and services to survive the Pandemic.

The continued lack of information in Indigenous languages predisposes our peoples, an already extremely vulnerable group, to more difficulties and health impacts. We face the exclusion of our Indigenous languages, as well as the lack of recognition of our existence, resulting in dangerous consequences for our peoples and our survival. As background, the deaths of five Maya children at the facilities of the Border Patrol (BP) and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) before the pandemic indicates, unfortunately, what we can expect.

Faced by this situation, we Indigenous peoples and organizations are organizing and articulating efforts to respond to the needs and priorities of our peoples in our own geographic regions and at the national level. As an example, we are creating materials in Indigenous languages with Public Service Announcement videos on notices, public services, and information about COVID-19, printed materials, and cards that identify our primary language (I speak cards).

However, we are deeply concerned that our peoples, who constitute a large majority in the public services sector in urban and rural areas (for example, agriculture, construction, domestic services, and cleaning); mostly undocumented, without health insurance and those living in poverty, are not being adequately informed about resources and services at this time. For example, being informed of where to find food and health centers and/or access to computers for distance learning for their sons and daughters in their respective locations. We are concerned that most members of our community are unable to benefit from local, regional and national programs and services due to their legal status.

We express our outrage because in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, our community continues to suffer deportations, family separations, immigration raids, and the lack or null attention in cases of people in detention with contagion of the virus under the responsibility of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

The criminalization of our communities will only increase fear and panic and will unnecessarily contribute to dangerous conditions resulting in the further spread of COVID-19 perpetuating genocide against Indigenous peoples, a genocide that has a long and dark history in the United States, and throughout the Americas.

FACED BY THIS SITUATION, WE REQUEST THE SUPPORT TO INDIGENOUS PEOPLES  AND ORGANIZATIONS, AND TO OUR INDIGENOUS PROPOSAL BEFORE COVID-19

  1. First, that the local, municipal, state and federal governments consult with our organizations and peoples to learn about our existence and needs.
  2. Second, that the different government agencies support strategies already led by Indigenous peoples rooted in our experience and knowledge of the needs and priorities identified by our own peoples and communities.
  3. Third, financial support:
    • Any legislation to provide COVID-19 relief and the benefits derived from such legislation must be accessible to Indigenous peoples.
    • The Interpretation of COVID-19 services and benefits legislated by Congress at the end of March 2020 in Indigenous languages.
    • Technical support to our organizations for our Educational Campaigns on COVID-19.
    • The creation of a communication mechanism / platform such as a telephone line and a website aimed for Indigenous peoples in priority languages so that they are aware of the resources available to them.
  4. Fourth, the assignment of contact people between government agencies and our organizations to support prevention, mitigation, and monitoring of COVID-19, and the exchange of community and government resources.

During this time of crisis for humanity, we unite as one voice and express our concerns, but also our recommendations to meet the needs of our peoples, who survive their respective realities based in our languages, traditions, worldview and experiences.

Together, valuing and respecting the diversity of all our communities, peoples and cultures, we will be able to respond to the needs of our peoples and future generations.

SIGNED BY:

  • Juanita Cabrera Lopez, (Maya Mam), International Mayan League/Liga Maya Internacional
  • Odilia Romero, (Zapotec), Indigenous Front of Binational Organizations (FIOB)
  • Comunidades Indígenas en Liderazgo DBA CIELO
  • Policarpo Chaj, (Maya K’iche’), Maya Vision
  • Alberto Perez Rendon, (Maya Yucateco), Asociación Mayab
  • Blake Gentry, (Cherokee), Indigenous Language Office, Alitas Immigrant Shelter
  • Luis Marcos, (Maya Q’anjob’al Nation) Comunidad Maya Pixan Ixim: Reinforcing Our Roots, Living Our Maya Heritage
  • Charlie Uruchima, (Kichwa), Kichwa- Kañari, Kichwa Hatari
  • Arcenio J. López, Executive Director, Mixteco/Indigena Community Organizing Project (MICOP)
  • Indigenous Alliance Without Borders / Alianza Indígena Sin Fronteras
  • The Guatemalan-Maya Center/Centro Maya Guatemalteco, Florida
  • LA Comunidad Ixim, Maya Collective in Los Angeles, CA
  • Alianza de Organizaciones Guatemaltecas de Houston
  • Red de Pueblos Trasnacionales/Transnational Villages Network (Pueblos Nahuas-Tlaxcalteca, Mixteco y Nahua/ Nahuas-Tlaxcalteca, Mixteco and Nahua Peoples)
  • Red de Intérpretes Indígenas/Network of Indigenous Interpreters (Pueblos Mixteco, Tlapaneco, Nahua, Mam, Cuicateco, and Kichwa)
  • Colectivo de Intérpretes Comunitarios Pixan Konob’ de Champaign IL
  • Jose Flores Chamale, Sangre Indigena Art
  • Benito Juarez, (Maya Mam), Vice President, Board of Directors, International Mayan League
  • Emil’ Keme (K’iche’ Maya Nation/ Nacion K’iche’ Maya)
  • Giovanni Batz (K’iche’ Maya), Visiting Assistant Professor, New Mexico State University
  • Floridalma Boj Lopez, (Maya K’iche’), Assistant Professor in Sociology, California State University, Los Angeles
  • Gloria E. Chacón (Maya Ch’orti’), Associate Professor, University of California, San Diego
  • Ingrid Sub Cuc (Kaqchikel/ Q’eqchi’ Maya)
  • Ana Yesenia Ramirez (Maya Akateka)
  • Jessica Hernandez (Zapotec & Ch’orti’ Maya), Pina Soul, SPC
  • Mercedes Say, (Maya K’iche’)
  • Daniel Hernandez, Wīnak: (K‘iche‘,Tz ‘utujil, Mam, Kaqchikel), Doctoral Candidate, Te Whare
  • Wānanga o Tāmaki Makaurau, Aotearoa
  • Sonia Cabrera Lopez, (Maya Mam)

Media Contacts:

  • Juanita Cabrera Lopez International Mayan League, Washington, D.C., juanita@mayanleague.org
  • Odilia Romero Indigenous Front of Binational Organizations (FIOB), California, odiliar@mycielo.org
  • Blake Gentry Indigenous Language Office, Alitas Immigrant Shelter, Arizona, tsalagi7@gmail.com

Featured image by Joe Catron, CC BY NC 2.0

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