Family and community are extremely important to Native Americans, and those relationships have not escaped the pandemic's painful impact.
'People... Dying Left and Right'
Crow Tribe member Donna Stands Over Bull shared about the loss.
"To lose them one by one was so devastating and so heartbreaking to see so many of our people die from this," she told CBN News while fighting back tears. "And it's like the outside world doesn't understand what we're going through."
She and husband, Russell, began Arrow Creek International Ministries and have had to lead during these hard times.
"There was a period in our ministry time where we just couldn't accept all the requests for funeral officiating because there was so many," he told CBN News. "People were dying left and right."
The Crow Tribe especially has been hit hard by the pandemic. Its reservation sits in Big Horn County, which at one point had the state's highest infection rate and one of the highest in the country.
"It was devastating; we were pretty close," shared Blackfeet Nation member Wes Bremner.
Bremner, who lost his half-brother, lives on the Blackfeet Reservation in northwestern Montana.
"We like to gather in groups all the time, and anymore, it's just unheard of; we're all isolated and separated, and we hardly ever see each other," he told CBN News.
Health Care Disparities Among the Reasons
In addition to high COVID infection rates, the American Indians and Alaska Natives suffer higher hospitalization and death rates than Asian, Black, Hispanic and White persons.
"COVID in Indian Country's had a substantial impact just even in my family alone," said State Sen. Jason Small (R-MT; Senate District 21). "It killed all my grandfathers, several of my cousins, two or three of my friends, younger guys, early 40s, that I went to high school with, they passed away from it, several of them, pretty healthy people."
Small lives on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation. He blames health care disparities, geographical segregation, and "multigenerational housing" for the devastating impact.
"You have grandparents, you have parents, you have kids and grandchildren all living in the same house," he explained to CBN News. "You might have 10, 12, 14 people in the house. There may be an automobile for that house; there may not be."
Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte tells CBN News his administration has made Native Americans a priority in the COVID fight.
"We adopted a very simple rule. We said, 'Let's get the vaccine to the people most vulnerable,'" he said. "First, our health care workers; next, elderly, and we included Native peoples in that; they came right behind the health care workers."
"And working together with the tribal governments here in Montana, we've seen very high vaccination rates, and this has helped protect those communities," he continued.
Alejandro Coca is the director of the Apsaalooke Service Corporation on the Crow Reservation. His team and Crow leaders provide personal protective equipment and places to quarantine for tribal members.
"Everybody should take this serious, and everybody should not only think of themselves, but think of others, those elders, not just Crow people elders, but Montana elders, Arizona elders, Wisconsin elders, New York elders," he said.
"Their valuable knowledge is sittin' there and is at risk to lose their life because of COVID," he continued.
'Pray for Us'
As Donna Stands Over Bull and her people fight against weariness, she knows the importance of prayer and hope.
"For the people out there, just to continue to pray for us because we certainly need that prayer and that this COVID would end," she said, overcome with emotion.*