Historical Environmental Racism, Structural Inequalities, and Dik’os Ntsaaígíí-19 (COVID-19) on Navajo Nation

  • Nicholet A. Deschine Parkhurst Arizona State University
  • Kimberly R Huyser The University of British Columbia
  • Aggie J. Yellow Horse Arizona State University
Keywords: Abandoned Uranium Mines, Environmental Racism, COVID-19, Navajo Nation


The Navajo Nation has been disproportionately affected by Dik’os Ntsaaígíí-19 (COVID-19), with the highest per capita COVID-19 rate in the United States. While some media attention has focused on the importance of structural inequalities in understanding the heightened experiences of COVID-19 for Navajo people, we draw from Indigenous knowledge and Indigenous research paradigm to bring the need to consider the lasting legacy of historical environmental racism on Indigenous land to the current public health discourse. Specifically, we explore the potential lasting health implications of the historical environmental racism on Navajo people at the ecological level by describing the associations between abandoned uranium mines, structural inequalities (as measured by lack of grocery stores and hospitals) and COVID-19 confirmed cases on the Navajo Nation by compiling unique dataset from the Navajo Department of Health, 2014-2018 American Community Survey 5-years estimates, and the Uranium Mines and Mills Location Database from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. We found that population and housing characteristics do not fully explain the different COVID-19 cases among 11 counties on Diné Bikéyah, and suggest that there is a need for the holistic approach is guided by Hózhó wisdom of Navajo people that emphasize the importance of interconnectedness and whole-system in understanding the impacts of Dik’os Ntsaaígíí-19.

Author Biographies

Kimberly R Huyser, The University of British Columbia

Associate Professor

Department of Sociology

Aggie J. Yellow Horse, Arizona State University

Assistant Professor

School of Social Transformation at Arizona State University


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