As the school year comes to a close and we all begin a second month in some stage of quarantine, it is hard to believe how much our world has changed. And yet, some things haven’t changed; rather long-standing disparities are only just now coming to the forefront of public attention. The unfortunately vast gulf in internet access between indigenous people and the rest of the United States has been opened up for all to see as Native nations are hit harder than other populations by the virus and the economics of the situation. One of the topics that we at AIPI have been researching for years (and myself for years before that) is the digital divide. It became very apparent just how disconnected Indian Country is when students at the university had to return home during late March. Given our area of expertise,
AIPI has been working to elevate the visibility of the divide with the support of the highest levels of leadership at ASU, including President Crow. We prepared a series of briefs about the digital divide and its impact on Indian Country in early April 2020. Although they can and do easily stand alone, we see them as companion pieces to one another. The first—COVID-19: The Impact of Limited Internet Access and Issues with Social Distancing for Native Students—explained the additional barriers to educational achievement that Indigenous students face as schools transitioned to online-only formats, especially considering that they are already documented as disproportionately impacted by the digital divide. The second—Tribal Digital Divide Policy Brief and Recommendations—includes talking points on the divide and recommendations to address internet access on rural and tribal lands. The latter was developed at the request of ASU tribal leadership for use by ASU President Crow in supporting Native students and for use in talking with Arizona elected officials.
As tribal nations continue to wait for federal aid set aside for them over a month ago, we are seeing tribal members dying from COVID-19 at higher rates than people in other populations. Not only that, we see that they may enter a hospital Indigenous but all too often when they leave (no matter how they leave) they are classified as white or Latinx, but not Indigenous. The same thing happens in cases of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG). In the era of big data, Indigenous people are being erased. In the era of big data, we do not exist. This has been called a modern-day genocide.
We continue to work with the ASU team and with the State of Arizona with regard to MMIWG. Here’s a video that encapsulates Arizona’s response to the issue of MMIWG in a Q&A hosted by the ASU Law School Academy for Justice. ASU has a team of folks working on MMIWG issues, including a study being conducted out of ASU’s Research on Violent Victimization Lab in the Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions.
See also the Urban Indian Health Institute’s newly published Best Practices for American Indian and Alaska Native Data Collection and the 2019 MMIWG: We Demand More report addressing the data deficiencies. They are excellent follow-ups to the highly regarded 2018 study: Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls: A Snapshot of Data from 71 Urban Cities in the United States.