PHOENIX — Jill Biden is making her third visit to the country's largest Native American reservation. The Navajo Nation in the U.S. Southwest was hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic.
Now, it's outpacing the U.S. in vaccination rates while maintaining a mask mandate and other safety precautions. On Thursday, Biden met with Navajo officials in the tribal capital of Window Rock.
Female leaders there talked to her about the needs and priorities on the reservation, including an expansion to a cancer center and additional law enforcement resources.
On Friday, the first lady will attend a listening session with students from across Navajo Nation at Hunters Point Board School in St. Michaels, Arizona, and visit a vaccination site.
This is not the first time Biden has made a trip to the Navajo Nation. “We welcome Dr. Jill Biden back to the Navajo Nation. Two years ago, she came to Tuba City to launch the Cancer Treatment Facility,” said President Nez.
Nez said the first lady will also meet with Native women business leaders to discuss initiatives they have been working towards throughout the pandemic.
Navajo Nation was once the epicenter of COVID-19 pandemic
“We've learned a lot of lessons learned from the past year,” said Nez.
Nez said he remembers just how devastating the virus' grip was in the early months of the pandemic. Daily cases spiked to more than 200 last May, which was the highest in the country and eclipsed that of New York City.
The Navajo Nation and 10 other tribes have filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Secretary of Treasury for more COVID-19 funding last April.
During the Trump administration, Congress allocated $8 billion from the Coronavirus Relief Fund to help tribal governments handle the pandemic, but at the time the Navajo Nation said the Treasury was allocating much of those funds to more than 230 Alaska Native Corporations, which included non-Native Americans.
In March, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development announced $450 million in Indian Housing Block Grants for tribes to help respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, which was included in the American Rescue Plan Act approved by Congress and U.S. President Joe Biden.
The Navajo Nation is scheduled to receive nearly $50 million of the funding to help carry out affordable housing activities.
Nez also supports President Biden's 2022 FY Budget, which includes funding for school, Indian Health Services and other priorities.
Native Americans have faced historic challenges and failed promises from the federal government.
Nez said he views the first lady's visit as a new chapter in the Navajo Nation and White House working together.
“This is a good example of following through on the commitment of the Biden-Harris administration to have the Navajo Nation have a seat at the table for a lot of these discussions on not only Indian issues but the United States as well,” said Nez.