Anglican indigenous leaders have reported from around the Communion that already stressed indigenous health systems now face pressure to perform on lower resources than non-indigenous health systems as they work to protect their people from the COVID-19 disease.
Each of the Anglican Communion’s indigenous church leaders that reported to an AIN Zoom meeting in late March expressed concerns that national responses to the pandemic did not take into account the extra needs of older and at risk people in indigenous communities. In each place where Anglican indigenous churches minister, indigenous communities have to contend with lower baseline health due to racial discrimination-led poverty, including under-resourcing of indigenous health needs by non-indigenous health systems.
Rev. Dr. Bradley Hauff, Episcopal Church USA Missioner for Indigenous Ministries reported that in Turtle Island (USA) the Indian Health System (IHS) is struggling to access sufficient COVID-19 testing kits or medical supplies, and its lower hospital capacity means the IHS has difficulty quarantining patients.
Tribal businesses are also suffering loss of income due to the shutdown, which will have a negative flow-on effect on community health more widely.
Archbishop Mark MacDonald explained how the shutdown of many services in Canada is disproportionately affecting indigenous people in outlying areas where they depend on the now reduced transport services to bring essential supplies to keep households functioning. While some areas are too remote to have been affected by the virus yet, inadequate health services in those areas pose a greater risk to people in remote communities should the virus arrive.
In Hawai’i, Kalani Holokai reported that the Maui Island church has had to close its “Cup of Cold Water” feeding ministry for people living on the streets and the community is coping with widescale job losses of indigenous people employed in the tourism sector, food service and social service industries.
Dr Rose Elu reported from Australia that for now the Torres Straits Islands are free of the disease, and have closed their border. In Brisbane, Aboriginal communities are focused on supporting mental health for isolated members of their communities during the lockdown.
Bishop of Tai Tokerau, Bishop Kito Pikaahu, who is Chair of the Anglican Indigenous Network, explained in an AIN communique how indigenous people are more vulnerable to COVID-19 infection because of already compromised health. This comes from a variety of factors, he said, including intergenerational poverty, the potentially swift spread of infection within multigenerational households, loss of income from job losses and limited and delayed access to social services and benefits for people in remote locations. Another area of concern for poorer indigenous communities are communications and information challenges – because of lack of a phone/internet, or phone/internet credit due to job losses – particularly during this time where cellphone and internet communication for vital services is the “new normal”.
The AIN has asked the Anglican Communion for both prayers and practical support for Anglican indigenous communities that face added risks from the pandemic – especially elderly people and the greater number of indigenous people with underlying health conditions.
Details of how each Anglican Indigenous church has analysed and is responding to the COVID-19 pandemic are in the full Anglican Indigenous Network COVID-19 report.