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In Shiprock, N.M., Northern Navajo Medical Center staff were among the first in the Navajo Nation to receive Pfizer-BioNTech vaccinations. Photo: Micah Garen/Getty Images

Native American tribes are pulling off many of the most successful coronavirus vaccination campaigns in the U.S., bucking stereotypes about tribal governments.

The big picture: Despite severe technological barriers, some tribes are vaccinating their members so efficiently, and at such high rates, that they've been able to branch out and offer coronavirus vaccines to people outside of their tribes.

Why it matters: Native Americans are one of the most at-risk groups for contracting and dying from the coronavirus. But tribal nations have rallied to get members vaccinated and helped nearby communities while major cities have struggled with rollouts.

Details: Tribes, which are sovereign nations that can set their own eligibility criteria, immediately got doses and launched vigorous campaigns on vaccines.

  • The White Earth Nation in Minnesota was so successful in early vaccinations that it immediately began vaccinating non-tribal members, Minnesota Public Radio reports.
  • The Ute Mountain Ute Tribe in Colorado last week said after it has vaccinated 1,900 of its tribal members and staff it will offer 2,000 doses to the general public.
  • Laguna Pueblo in New Mexico, the tribe of Interior Secretary nominee Deb Haaland, also started offering doses to nearby residents after tribal members received theirs. Several tribes in Oklahoma have, too.
  • An AP analysis of federal data showed Native Americans were getting vaccinated at a rate higher than all but five states by February's end.

What they're saying: "White Earth has done a phenomenal job, vaccinating nearly 90% of elders in Mahnomen County, extending eligibility to Native and non-Native adults in the community ... I am proud to be a White Earth member," Minnesota Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan tweeted after getting her vaccine.

  • "This shows when we state and federal governments trust tribal governments to take care of their communities, they go above and beyond for their members and neighbors," Flanagan, who lost her brother to the coronavirus, told Axios.

Between the lines: The early success is even more impressive when taking into account the dismal state of internet access on tribal lands.

  • 2019 FCC report shows that 36% of housing units on tribal land have no access to broadband — compared to 8% on non-tribal land.
  • In 2019, the American Indian Policy Institute found that 18% of tribal reservation residents have no internet access at home, wireless or land-based.

Three Indigenous principles have helped provide the impetus to get vaccinated, according to activist Allie Young, a citizen of the Navajo Nation:

  • Recognize how Native Americans' actions will impact the next seven generations.
  • Act in honor of ancestors who fought to ensure their survival and elders who carry on their traditions and cultures.
  • Hold on to ancestral knowledge in the ongoing fight to protect Mother Earth.

The bottom line: The vaccination campaign worked largely through word of mouth and tribal outreach.

  • But chronic underfunding, mismanagement at the federally run Indian Health Service and poor technological infrastructure still mean that Native Americans often can't access telemedicine and other important services.

"We knew how to reach our population, despite these obstacles, because we've been having to overcome these obstacles for some time already," said Abigail Echo-Hawk, Seattle Indian Health Board's chief research officer and member of the Pawnee Nation of Oklahoma. "That doesn't mean you let it continue."

Go deeper

Report: LGBTQ+ Afghans' lives "dramatically worsened" under Taliban rule

Taliban fighters in Kabul, Afghanistan, earlier this month. Photo: Mohd Rasfan/AFP via Getty Images

LGBTQ+ Afghans have been threatened, attacked and "faced an increasingly desperate situation and grave threats to their safety" since the Taliban seized control of Afghanistan last August, per a report published Wednesday.

What they're saying: "We spoke with LGBT Afghans who have survived gang rape, mob attacks, or have been hunted by their own family members who joined the Taliban, and they have no hope that state institutions will protect them," per a statement from study co-author J. Lester Feder.

3 hours ago - World

Canadian Indigenous group finds 93 suspected unmarked graves

A makeshift memorial honoring the 215 children whose remains were found in a mass grave in Brantford, Ontario, Canada, last May. Photo: Cole Burston/AFP via Getty Images

Indigenous leaders in Canada's western province of British Columbia said Tuesday they believe they've found 93 unmarked graves near a former boarding school.

The big picture: Hundreds of mass graves have been found at the grounds of former residential schools for Indigenous children since last May, when the remains of 215 children were uncovered at one such site in B.C.

6 hours ago - World

Coast Guard searches for 39 people after boat capsizes off Florida coast

A U.S. Coast Guard ship leaving its base in Miami Beach, Florida, in July. Photo: AP/Marta Lavandier

U.S. Coast Guard crews were searching into the night for 39 people whose boat sank off Florida's coast over the weekend after traveling from the Bahamas.

The big picture: A "good Samaritan" contacted the Coast Guard about 8 a.m. Tuesday to say they "rescued a man clinging to a capsized vessel" 45 miles east of Fort Pierce, per a tweet from the agency, which noted it was dealing with "a suspected human smuggling venture."