Victor Anthony Lopez-Carmen, a Dakota and Yaqui writer, health policy advocate, and member of Boston's COVID-19 Health Inequities Taskforce spoke to Boston Public Radio on Tuesday about how the coronavirus pandemic has disproportionately affected Native Americans.
Currently just .04% of practicing physicians in the U.S. are Native American. There's a dire need to have more Indigenous representation in the medical field, Lopez-Carmen said. Last April, he founded Translations for our Nations, an organization facilitating the translation of COVID-19 information to indigineous languages.
"A lot of Indigenous peoples speak languages that, while they have existed for thousands of years, have also taken hits from policies that have caused these languages to not be prioritized in public health messaging," he said. "So I've been working to get COVID-19 information created in Indigenous languages around the world so that these communities have access to information that will empower them to make the right choices."
Many Indigenous communities have felt hesitancy towards the COVID-19 vaccine, Lopez-Carmen said.
"When it comes to Indigenous peoples, like other underrepresented minorities, there is a history of abuse between the medical system and those populations, and that can sometimes cause a dignfied mistrust of the medical system," he said. "So I think it's important to have community representatives out there talking to these communities about the vaccine to give them information that empowers them."
President Joe Biden has nominated Rep. Deb Haaland, D-N.M., for interior secretary. If confirmed, she'll be the first Native American cabinet secretary. Lopez-Carmen said that having Haaland's lead the Interior Department would positively impact Indigenous health.
"She can really inspire change going into the future and get more Native youth feeling like they can be in these positions to make a change," he said. "Hopefully in the future we'll see more secretaries at the federal level who are American Indian, and Deb Haaland won't be the last."
Victor Anthony Lopez-Carmen is a Dakota and Yaqui writer, health policy advocate and student at Harvard Medical School. He currently serves on the City of Boston’s COVID-19 Health Inequities Taskforce and as co-chair of the U.N. Global Indigenous Youth Caucus, the official U.N. caucus that represents the political interests of Indigenous youth before international policy making bodies. His commentary on minority health and human rights has been featured in the BBC, Teen Vogue and the U.N. News Centre.