This story about the Seattle Indian Health Board requesting medical supplies and getting body bags and toe tags instead is making the rounds.
I’m not surprised. My dad was a physician in what was at the time called Indian Health Service (IHS) in the late 50’s and early 60’s — I spent my first few months of life on the South Dakota reservation where he was stationed. He also practiced on the Navajo Nation and has some terrible, horrible, no good stories about that time in his life, and the many, many children who died in the pediatric service there. “We were so stupid then” is one of the common refrain of those stories, which include accounts of how he and his fellow doctors did blood chemistry on dehydrated children by judging the color of the flame in a bunsen burner. Today those tests are done in seconds with a machine. The children were often dehydrated because it was common for sick kids to spend some time at a Navajo ceremony called a sing prior to being brought a long way to the hospital. Today, the Navajo Nation is one of the worst COVID-19 hot spots.
Back in the 50s and 60s, there was a compulsory draft, and the IHS was considered military service, so most of the medical staff consisted of people who joined to avoid the draft, many of whom went on to distinguished careers — my guess is that the quality of care when judged by standards back then was probably decent, who knows. I do know that the services offered at the reservation hospitals were bare-bones, and Dad has a lot of stories about riding in an ambulance to a far-off hospital with a sick person. He also has many stories of the illnesses of poverty on the rez, mostly shared after a few martinis.
I don’t have a lot of reservation stories but I do have a story about voter suppression. Because of their clear-eyed, rational concern about fraud, the South Dakota state legislature took a minute off from their usual work of banning abortion to pass laws requiring that voter registration forms and absentee ballots be notarized. So, more than 30 years ago, I became a notary public, following the advice of the South Dakota Democratic Party (RIP). It costs money to become a notary (application fees, a bond, a stamp and a seal), and notaries can charge for services. Who knows what the laws are today — they probably require that notaries wet their stamps using ink obtained from Chilean octopuses on full moon high tides in months ending in “r”, a requirement that John Roberts would understand and endorse as an eminently reasonable safeguard of democracy. The point is that, back before voter id became a thing, Republicans were pioneering voter suppression in their laboratory of anti-democracy, the reservation.
Well, enough story time, but it’s obvious that voter suppression and being shipped body bags when you ask for medical supplies are two pieces of bread around the shit sandwich called “being poor” and “being brown” here in the greatest country God has ever wrought, the U.S.A.
By the way, Pine Ridge knows the score — over a month ago, they posted guards at the entrances to their reservation towns to keep the modern day equivalent of smallpox blankets away from their people.