Severe isolation, highest per capita death rate mark Native American COVID-19 experience

By Barbara Fraser
March 9, 2021

When word of the novel coronavirus spread through the U.S. a year ago this month, various Native American tribes closed their borders to outsiders in an effort to keep the pandemic at bay. On the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, Lakota tribal leaders ordered residents to “shelter in place” by staying home, avoiding gatherings and especially protecting elders.

“We knew the vulnerabilities. We know our population,” said Tashina Banks Rama, executive vice president of Pine Ridge's Red Cloud Indian School, a Catholic school with Jesuit roots. “And we were terrified that once COVID got here, it was going to be catastrophic to an entire generation.”

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