COVID-19, Indian Reservations, and Self-Determination

8 Pages Posted: 31 Jul 2020

See all articles by Adam Crepelle

Adam Crepelle

Southern University Law Center

Ilia Murtazashvili

University of Pittsburgh - Graduate School of Public and International Affairs

Date Written: July 21, 2020


COVID-19 is the most recent example of the vulnerability of American Indian reservations to pandemic disease. The Navajo Nation’s COVID-19 infection rate is higher than that of any US state—even New York. The economic and health situation on reservations exacerbates the challenge of responding to the current pandemic. A central policy challenge is to alleviate the continued burden imposed on American Indian tribes by a uniquely complex federal legal structure. The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act provides only temporary measures to increase tribal funding. Reducing long-run vulnerability to pandemic disease requires an affirmation of tribal sovereignty along with institution building that enables the tribes to respond to crises. Recognizing tribal authority on tribal lands will enable tribes to effectively respond to reservation health problems; moreover, recognizing tribal sovereignty will enable tribes to rebuild their long-hobbled economies.

Keywords: Navajo Nation, Indian reservations, CARES Act, Native Americans, American Indians, tribal lands, federal policy, COVID-19, coronavirus, coronavirus pandemic

JEL Classification: I00, I18, J15, H00

Suggested Citation

Crepelle, Adam and Murtazashvili, Ilia, COVID-19, Indian Reservations, and Self-Determination (July 21, 2020). Mercatus COVID-19 Response Policy Brief Series, Available at SSRN: or

Adam Crepelle (Contact Author)

Southern University Law Center

P.O. Box 9294
Baton Rouge, LA 70813
United States

Ilia Murtazashvili

University of Pittsburgh - Graduate School of Public and International Affairs ( email )

Pittsburgh, PA 15260-0001
United States

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