The Navajo Nation — a Native American territory that spans Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah in the United States — recently had a 10-day streak of zero COVID-19 related deaths. The population of over 150,000 people, which had one of the highest COVID-19 infection rates in May 2020, has done a complete 180 on the pandemic, and women leaders were central to the effort.

Barriers to electricity and running water have made it particularly difficult for the Navajo people to curb the virus, but they have received praise for setting an example for the rest of the US. The Navajo Nation strictly enforced the recommended guidelines and is running a successful distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine. On Sunday, Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez announced more than half the adult population had been vaccinated.

Dr. Jill Jim, executive director at the Navajo Department of Health, has been at the helm of the Navajo Nation’s pandemic response.

Jim’s leadership earned her a role on President Joe Biden’s and Vice President Kamala Harris’ Transition COVID-19 Advisory Board last year. She recently reunited with three other women from the advisory board on a panel hosted by the organization WomenLift Health to discuss the importance of applying a gendered and intersectional lens to COVID-19 pandemic response.

Global Citizen caught up with Jim after the event to hear more about the challenges the Navajo Nation had to overcome during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the perspectives Navajo women bring to leadership.

Global Citizen: What are some of the unique challenges Indigenous Americans have faced during the pandemic? 
Dr. Jill Jim: I know the mortality rates for Navajo Nation, when we did our calculations last fall, were hitting rates that were just above other racial groups.

There's a large mental health and psychological impact because many deaths have occurred and we will probably need help in trying to grieve and overcome this as a tribal community going forward.

Read the full article about women's leadership in the Navajo Nation by Leah Rodriguez at Global Citizen.