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Journal Focuses on COVID-19’s Impact on Indigenous Communities

Associate Professor of Public Policy Randall Akee guest-edited a special issue of the American Indian Culture and Research Journal that focuses on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on indigenous populations. “COVID-19 and Indigenous Peoples: Impact of and Response to the Pandemic” is the first of two special issues that include articles, reviews and commentaries by American Indian scholars and researchers in the field. American Indian communities have been hit disproportionately hard by the pandemic, experiencing death rates 1.5 times higher and infection rates 3.5 times greater than those for non-Hispanic whites. Akee and co-editors Stephanie Carroll and Chandra Ford wrote in the introduction that “the structural racism of colonialism is the driver of myriad negative outcomes for Indigenous Peoples, and the effects of COVID-19 are no exception.” The journal issue highlights the deep impact of the pandemic on indigenous communities as well as their resilience, and points to the importance of self-determination in preserving the well-being of these communities. The issue also compares the public health responses in different countries and how factors including racism, ableism, historical injustice and unfair resource allocation have contributed to the impact of the pandemic on different indigenous communities. The authors stress the need for public health responses that are culturally appropriate and respectful in order to support indigenous communities and their traditions. Akee said the forthcoming second special issue on COVID-19 will feature “emerging, innovative models of health care, access and service for effective public health responses to the needs of Indigenous communities.”


Reber, Akee on COVID-19’s Devastation of Native Populations

Associate Professors of Public Policy Randall Akee and Sarah Reber co-authored a Brookings article about the disproportionate impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on American Indian and Alaska Native (AIAN) populations. Research has found that AIAN people are dying of COVID-19 at much higher rates and at younger ages than other groups, with a death rate comparable to white people 20 to 30 years older. Akee and Reber noted that accurate data on this population is lacking because of difficulty estimating the size of small communities and miscategorization of AIAN people as other races and ethnicities. Nevertheless, available data shows that the age-adjusted mortality rate is higher for AIAN people than for any other group, and it is more than double the death rate for whites and Asians. Reber and Akee argued that the history of racism against Native populations underscores the importance of prioritizing the vaccination of American Indians and Alaska Natives of all ages as soon as possible.


Akee on Movement to Reclaim Indigenous Lands

Associate Professor of Public Policy Randall Akee spoke with CNN for an article on efforts by Indigenous people across North America to reclaim land — including the tribe at the heart of the Thanksgiving holiday. Descendants of the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe that broke bread with colonists four centuries ago are fighting for recognition and the return of land. They are part of a broader movement that is gaining steam as the country grapples with injustices committed against marginalized communities. While recognition, economics and sovereignty are all at play, the fight centers on getting Indigenous lands back in Indigenous hands. “The origin of being Indigenous is location and ties to the land,” Akee said.

Akee Highlights Disproportionate Impact of COVID on Indigenous Populations

Associate Professor of Public Policy Randall Akee wrote an article for EconoFact about the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on indigenous populations and other disadvantaged communities. He explained that historical inequities in public funding have made indigenous peoples and African American and Latinx households more likely than white households to lack access to complete plumbing. New research indicates that “COVID-19 cases are more likely to occur in tribal communities with a higher proportion of homes lacking indoor plumbing.” He also noted that “COVID-19 cases were less likely to occur in tribal communities where households spoke English only,” suggesting that “access to relevant public health information in indigenous languages may play a key role in the spread of COVID-19 in some tribal communities.” Akee recommended developing better-targeted, context-specific policies for indigenous communities, including effective communication of public health warnings and provision of water supplies.


Akee Finds High Rate of COVID-19 Infection in Indigenous Populations

Associate Professor of Public Policy Randall Akee was featured in an article on Turtle Talk about his research on the infection rates of COVID-19 on American Indian reservations. Akee joined a team of researchers to investigate the relationship between community and household characteristics and the rate of COVID-19 spread on tribal lands. They found that the rate of COVID-19 cases per 1,000 people was more than four times higher for populations residing on reservations than for the U.S. as a whole. Furthermore, they discovered that COVID-19 cases were more likely to occur in tribal communities with a higher proportion of homes lacking indoor plumbing and less likely to occur in tribal communities where households spoke English only. Akee’s team recommended government action to “strengthen tribal public health and household infrastructure and provide potable water and culturally relevant information” to protect American Indian communities from COVID-19 and future pandemics.


Events

Native American Heritage Speaker Series

A speaker series commemorating Native American Heritage Month will highlight the broad range of UCLA scholarship about issues related to Indigenous people. The series is designed to provide a less academic and more informal platform for Native American faculty to share their research and insights, said Associate Professor of Public Policy Randall Akee, who chairs UCLA’s American Indian studies interdepartmental program. 

During the four-part virtual series, Indigenous scholars on the university’s faculty will give brief overviews of their current research, then conduct interactive discussions with the moderator and audience members. Topics will include the experiences of Native Americans in higher education and the relationship between Indigenous groups and land-grant institutions.

RSVP HERE to receive a link to view the series.

SCHEDULE OF SPEAKERS

  • Friday, Nov. 5, 2 p.m. — Juliann Anesi (Samoan), assistant professor of gender studies
  • Friday, Nov. 12, 2 p.m. — Desi Small-Rodriguez (Northern Cheyenne and Chicana), assistant professor of sociology and American Indian studies
  • Friday, Nov. 19, 2 p.m. — Kyle Mays (Black and Saginaw Chippewa), assistant professor of African American studies, American Indian studies and history
  • Friday, Dec. 3, 2 p.m. — Nanibaa’ Garrison (Dine), associate professor at the UCLA Institute for Society and Genetics, and the division of general internal medicine