/ Modified may 5, 2021 4:59 p.m.

Tohono O'odham district leaders discuss impacts of COVID-19

As of mid-April, Tohono O'odham Nation Health Care reported 1,758 COVID-19 cases and 76 deaths.

Indivisible Tohono COVID 1 Members of Indivisible Tohono and Tohono O'odham Nation district leaders discuss the impacts of the pandemic in a Facebook Live video May 4, 2021.
Screenshot of Facebook Live video

A Tohono O'odham advocacy group, Indivisible Tohono, had the first in a series of discussions Tuesday with tribal district leaders about the pandemic via Facebook Live.

The Tohono O'odham Nation is broken up into districts, like counties, and in this discussion leaders talked about what changes they'd like to see made before future COVID-19 outbreaks.

The capital of the nation is in Sells, and its district Chairman is Juan Buendia. He said he wished there had been more transparency and better communication between the Tohono O'odham Nation's executive branch and the district leaders.

"Do I have the chairman's number? Do I have his email? Does he respond? Yes, he does. Would I have liked to have seen a very much more aggressive campaign to inform from that standpoint — absolutely," Buendia said. "I think that that would have greatly given us the support that we needed in order for it to trickle down to where it really need to be, which is with the people."

Vice Chairman Joshua Albert of Sif-Oidak District in the north agreed, and he also hopes to see more transparency from authorities such as the Tohono O'odham Emergency Operations Center.

"There were so many hiccups that we had with the EOC and getting responses in a timely manner and getting information out in a timely manner," Albert said. "I think that was the biggest thing that we couldn't come together on."

The leaders also shared stories about mental health and internet connectivity for school children.

The Hickiwan District lies on the west side of the nation. Its chairman, Manuel Osequeda Jr., said he's also an advocate for improving communication with elders without connections:

"I ran into an elder who said that she didn't even realize the pandemic was here. 'Was is it?' I had to explain to them. They didn't hear this," Osequeda said. "We talk about technology, but what about technology for our elders, and that is what I would really like to look into as a district."

The Tohono O'odham Nation has about 35,000 members, and as of mid-April, Tohono O'odham Nation Health Care reported 1,758 COVID-19 cases and 76 deaths.

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