How the Navajo’s cultural values are driving COVID vaccinations


Q: What cultural factors have been contributing to this positive development?

A: In our Navajo culture, we’ve dealt with monsters before. We talk about that in terms of how we teach our young people to be strong and resilient. We talked about this virus as being another monster we had to tackle and control. The teaching was along those lines. We’ve dealt with this before, and we can handle it. We’re resilient. Our culture is very strong in that way. So how do we do it? We have to partner; we have to embrace Western medicine to return back to the ceremonies we want to have again and be social again. We focus on positive things, so if we see something as potentially positive, such as the vaccine, we see that and know that’s something to help us come into our life again.

Q: I would expect that protecting elders in the tribe would be a big incentive in taking the vaccine.

A: Yes, we didn’t want to lose our language and culture, and we wanted to protect our elders. Having a way to do that was very important as well. They were among the first to get vaccinated.

Q: What is the current vaccination rate in the Navajo nation?

A: I think it’s in the upper 80th percentile. It’s very high.

Q: What have been the biggest takeaways so far, and what are your hopes for the future?

A: Even though the Navajo Nation has been impacted and devastated with the loss of elders and knowledge keepers, we still have our culture and ceremonies intact to the point that we know we can be resilient get through this difficult time.

Through collaborations with the federal and state governments and the clinics, we see that things are different now. Going forward, my hope is these partnerships will continue, that we’ll build those relationships and not be so siloed in our care. When the New Mexico Department of Health rolled out its first vaccination clinic, for example, we jumped on and saw how they did it. We were then able to do our own, collaborating with the state.

We also saw how important our culture was, how it helped our Navajo people through these difficult times.

Dr. Roessel, a distinguished fellow of the American Psychiatric Association, has special expertise in cultural psychiatry. Her childhood was spent growing up in the Navajo nation with her grandfather, who was a Navajo medicine man. Her psychiatric practice focuses on integrating Indigenous knowledge and principles.


American Public Media Research Lab. “The Color of Coronavirus: COVID-19 Deaths by Race and Ethnicity in the U.S.” 2021 Mar 5.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Demographic Characteristics of People Receiving COVID-19 Vaccinations in the United States.” Data as of 2021 Oct 14.

Navajo Nation. Indian Health Service. U.S. Department of Health & Human Services.

The Navajo Nation’s Office of the President and Vice President. “11 New Cases, 32,735 Recoveries, and Six Recent Deaths Related to COVID-19.” 2021 Oct 13.

Navajo Nation Government web page.


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