By Larry Vélez, Sinu CTO

Sinú pre-Columbian jewelry in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons, Sailko, CC BY 3.0

Indigenous Peoples Day was held this year on October 12 in over a dozen states and 130 cities, often in lieu of Columbus Day, which has been a federal holiday since 1971. A little background… My parents were born in Colombia and our family has indigenous ancestors, so as a homage to my heritage, I named this company after a pre-Columbian culture. I remember the day clearly. I had found a map somewhere online that had many Native peoples in all of the Americas and as I looked down to the area of present day Colombia — one name stood out from the rest: Sinú.

It may not come as a surprise that I support any effort (even if it is only one day a year) to recognize the histories, cultures and contributions of Native peoples across our continent; however, I was disappointed that there was so little mention of the suffering and inequities that continue to plague these communities.

Take COVID-19 for instance. Indigenous peoples have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic. At one point, the “Navajo Nation had the highest per-capita infection rate in the United States, with more deaths than multiple states combined,” reports AL DÍA.

Similarly, when the swine flu hit in 2009, “the death rate for Native Americans who contracted the disease was four times that of all other racial and ethnic groups combined, according to a study by the National Institutes of Health,” reports the Los Angeles Times.

While underlying health conditions contributed to the disparity for both the swine flu and COVID-19, what we hear too little about are the underlying inequities that have compounded the spread of both viruses in Native communities, including lack of health care, water, and electricity.

A little known and important battle is happening right now in the U.S. Congress to address voter suppression of Native peoples in the 2020 election. The Native American Voting Rights Act strives to ensure all people have a voice in our democracy by removing several barriers to a fair election process for Native communities.

Many Native peoples are not able to participate in the democratic process. According to The Guardian, “Voter turnout for Native Americans and Alaskan Natives is the lowest in the country, and about one in three eligible voters (1.2 million people) are not registered to vote, according to the National Congress of American Indians.”

The Guardian does a great job of outlining the complicated issues that contribute to voter suppression of Native peoples, including the lack of accessible registration and polling sites, the absence of reliable and affordable broadband connectivity, and restrictions on the time and place that people can register and vote. Nontraditional addresses for residents on Indian reservations and other voter identification laws are also barriers to voting and are being addressed by The Native American Voting Rights Act.

When you look a bit more closely and dig a bit deeper, two of the most talked-about issues today — COVID-19 and the election — could serve to spotlight and catalyze the critical changes we need to make as a society to address the inequities facing the indigenous peoples, including the right to vote.

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Sinu is a technology managed service provider with offices in New York City and Washington DC. www.sinu.com