Denver, CO

Mayor busts COVID myths with native community

David Heitz

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As part of his ongoing discussion with minority communities about the importance of getting the COVID-19 vaccine, Denver Mayor Michael Hancock met virtually Sunday with Native American leaders.

Hancock is meeting with minority communities because research shows they are distrustful of the government due to past experiences. They also are at greater risk for contracting COVID-19. Hancock already has had virtual public meetings with members of the black, Hispanic, and Asian American communities.

During each discussion Hancock has a segment he calls “Bust That Myth.” It gives those participating in the roundtable a way to bust myths about COVID that are circulating in their communities.

Mistrust of government fuels conspiracy theories

Two myths surfaced immediately during the Native American discussion. “One myth we heard is that Indians don’t catch COVID,” said Rick Waters of the Denver Indian Center.

In fact, Native Americans and other minority groups are at greater risk of contracting COVID.

Jennifer Wolf owns Project Mosaic, a consulting firm on Indian affairs. “Somebody’s mom told them (the vaccine) would make them sterile,” Wolf said.

She even heard that the vaccine contains a chip for government tracking – also a false conspiracy theory. “If the government wants to track you, they have a much better way to do it right in most of our hands,” Wolf said, holding up her smartphone for the camera.

Elderly Native Americans report loneliness

The Native American services groups conducted a survey to find out what the community thinks about COVID. They learned older people are very lonely because of the pandemic.

The survey showed about 75 percent of Native Americans in Denver agree to get the vaccine. The goal of the groups is to get that number up to 100 percent.

“Our goal is to vaccinate our communities so they can be reunited with their families,” said Adrianne Maddux. Many of our families don’t want to hear messaging from the federal government for obvious reasons.”

Leader of anti-discrimination office contracts COVID

Darius Smith, director of the Denver anti-discrimination office, is a Native American who already has had COVID. He’s living proof that the myth natives can’t catch COVID is false.

Smith said he began to feel sick Nov. 19 on the golf course at Green Valley Ranch. He said he coughed for three hours straight.

He ended up as an inpatient at St. Joseph’s Medical Center for eight days. He lost 20 pounds. His mother also contracted COVID and was hospitalized for 11 days. He said she slowly is beginning to recover. “She’s walking, trying to get in 10,000 steps every day. I was more worried about her than I was about me.”

Denver Indian Health and Family Services has launched a vaccination campaign called “Get Vaccinated. For the elders. For the youth. For the future.”

Natives place emphasis on protecting elders

Indian culture places great emphasis on elders. “Our core values include protecting one another. Wearing a mask is a sign of respect and strength, and getting a shot is a sign of resilience,” Wolf said. “That’s how we behave as modern-day warriors today.”

She said natives often talk about how everything they do impacts “the next seven generations,” and that’s true of the COVID vaccine, too. “Natives are forward-thinking.”

Wolf said Denver Native Americans have been connecting virtually to pass along traditions. While there is a misconception that some natives are stoic, “In reality our ability to laugh with one another has got us through hundreds of hardships,” Wolf said. “Native people have adapted and endured 500 years of pandemics and injustice.”

For more information about Native Americans and the COVID vaccine, call Denver Indian Health and Family Services at (303)-953-6604 or (720)-591-0090. You can also go online to wwww.DIFHS.org.

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I've been in the news business 35 years, spending much of my career in editing roles at local newspapers in Los Angeles, Detroit, and the Quad-Cities of Illinois and Iowa. Upon moving to Denver in 2018, I began experiencing severe mental illness due to several traumatic experiences. I became homeless on the street for about a year before spending time in the state mental hospital. I am living proof that people can rebound from mental illness with proper treatment, even after experiencing homelessness. I consider myself a lucky guy to live in a great place like Denver. I hope my writing reflects the passion I have for living here.

Denver, CO
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