Tell us about the Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander community? For someone who doesn’t have insight, what can you share about the community and the people within it?
The NHPI or Pasifika community is actually one of the first communities outside of indigenous people to be here in Washington state. We've been here for over 200 years, but little is known about our community.
Eight out of 10 of us in the U.S. are Native Americans indigenous to some territory that was colonized by the U.S. government. But in the last few decades, NHPIs were lumped in with Asians contributing a lot to the invisibility of our peoples.
What are some barriers your community faced in accessing healthcare, both historically and during the COVID pandemic?
From a historical standpoint, one of the biggest barriers to healthcare was the displacement of indigenous Pacific Islanders from their land and the colonized diet and sedentary western lifestyles. Then came nuclear testing on our soil and ocean that have left many in the North Pacific sick for many generations.
In the current pandemic, we continue to face these barriers and more. Many don’t trust the healthcare system while others struggle with language, cultural, or technology challenges. One of the strategies we are using to help bridge these divides is putting Pacific Islanders at the fore. We are partnering with doctors, nurses, and churches to help improve access to the vaccine and vaccine information.
Why has the pandemic hit your community especially hard?
Our health disparities in Washington state were not seen prior to COVID-19. When the pandemic hit, it was almost like a silent storm for Pacific Islander communities. Our little populations were filling up hospitals across the state. In some, more than half of the beds were filled by members from our community.
In Eastern Washington alone, 60% of all cases last June were Pacific Islanders. The devastating impact COVID-19 has had has forced the state to start looking at us as a unique racial community.