Over the past two year, Americans’ life expectancy has declined overall Primarily due to the coronavirus epidemic. But for Indigenous Americans, the decline was far worse, exacerbated by conditions and inequities that existed prior to the virus’s emergence.
Native Americans and Alaska Natives both saw their life expectancy rates increase. Drop by 6.6 YearsOver the past two years. Their life expectancies — which were already low compared to the rest of the U.S. population before the pandemic began — fell to 65 years old in 2021According to figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Experts say there isn’t a singular cause for the dramatic decline, which was more than twice the decline for Americans overall (a 2.75 years drop over the two-year period).
“The suffering is inextricably bound to a long history of poverty, inadequate access to health care, poor infrastructure and crowded housing, much of it the legacy of broken government promises and centuries of bigotry,” The New York Times reported late last month.
Initial shock at the sudden drop shocked researchers.
“When I saw a 6.6 year decline over two years, my jaw dropped…I made my staff re-run the numbers to make sure,” Robert AndersonChief of the National Center for Health Statistics’ mortality statistics branch.
But for Indigenous people throughout the country, the numbers — though horrifying — weren’t shocking.
“This is simply what happens biologically to populations that are chronically and profoundly stressed and deprived of resources,” said Ann Bullock, former director of diabetes treatment at federal Indian Health Services, and a member of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe, in an interview with The Times.
In fact, it’s highly probable that the decline is even worse than what researchers have discovered.
“It is not uncommon for a Native person to be identified as Native on their birth certificate but listed differently on their death certificates, usually listed as white,” noted Jennie R. Joe, a professor emerita at the University of Arizona’s Wassaja Carlos Montezuma Center for Native American Health. “It is therefore safe to say that the current life expectancy reported for Native Americans is probably a case of undercounting.”
“Discrimination is deadly,” noted Cindy BlackstockCanadian Gitxsan activist and the executive director of First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada. “With unequal public services and colonial traumas, COVID took a shocking toll” on Indigenous populations, she said.
Notably, life expectancy rates did not vary across Native American communities, according to Spiro M.Manson, director of Centers for American Indian Health and Alaska Native Health at The University of Colorado. told Boise State Public Radio News.
“These rates of lowered life expectancy vary enormously by region, and they vary enormously by tribes,” said Manson, who is Pembina Chippewa.
But it’s clear that institutional racism and the ongoing effects of colonialism played a role, experts say.
“I was perusing the recent CDC Vital Statistics report on life expectancy, and one thing struck me this time as a clear indicator of structural racism: On average, white people live *a whole decade* longer than Indigenous people,” said Joseph M. Pierce, a Cherokee Nation Citizen who is also an associate professor at Stony Brook University.