Native American tribe accused of denying Black citizens vaccines, relief funds

A Freedman is acknowledged as a Seminole citizen with Black heritage

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Seminole citizens are being denied access to the COVID-19 vaccine because of their Black lineage.

Victims of the discrimination spoke with BuzzFeed and said they are being denied health services simply because they are descendants of enslaved Black people.

“It’s a terrible day to find out that your own people will let you die,” said LeEtta Osborne-Sampson of Oklahoma. She told the publication she was denied the COVID-19 vaccine at the Indian Health Service clinic in Wewoka because her tribal ID identifies her as a Freedman.

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(Photo by Karen Ducey/Getty Images)

A Freedman is acknowledged as a Seminole citizen with Black heritage. The difference between a “Native American” and a “Freedman” is that Freedmans hold IDs that read “Freedman citizen, 0/0 Indian blood.” Freedmans say the cards restrict them from COVID-19 health services and financial benefits.

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Native Americans and Alaska Natives are dying at almost twice the rate of White people in the country due to the pandemic.

Osborne-Sampson is fighting to get their plight recognized.

“I don’t want my name in lights,” said Osborne-Sampson. “I want my place at the table so our people can survive.”

Black people around the country are struggling to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, as reported by theGrio. In California, like many parts of the country, people of color have been vaccinated against coronavirus at much lower rates than their white counterparts. In order to counteract this, the state created a program specifically for the underserved to gain access to the COVID-19 vaccine.

LA County Nursing Facility Vaccinates Caregivers And Residents For COVID-19
Nurse Bethlehem Gurmu (L) receives a dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine from public health nurse Kathy Luu as staff members are vaccinated at the Ararat Nursing Facility in the Mission Hills neighborhood of Los Angeles on January 7, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

But now, wealthier Californians are gaming the system.

The program functions by creating access codes for the My Turn website, where one must make an appointment in order to get vaccinated. The codes were given to more than 2,000 organizations committed to helping those in Black and Latino communities get vaccinated via appointments at the Oakland Coliseum and at Cal State Los Angeles. The individuals receiving the codes must still be vaccine eligible. 

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According to The Los Angeles Times, the access codes leaked improperly and were shared in the group chats of wealthy residents in Los Angeles, and ineligible people were able to get appointments, then subsequent COVID-19 shots, at Cal State L.A. 

California’s governor, Gavin Newsom, has long said he would prioritize the vaccination of Black and Latino residents due to the disproportionate number of cases and deaths in those communities. Thousands of organizations targeting the vulnerable were contacted to participate in the state’s program, a plan meant be the manifestation of those promises. 

Johnson & Johnson shows vials of the Janssen COVID-19 vaccine in the United States. (Johnson & Johnson via AP)

Now, the state has been forced to cancel vaccine appointments made with at least one of the leaked access codes, The Times revealed.

Details about how the My Turn codes leaked were not readily available, but multiple sources told The Times they received information about a pilot program for which anyone was able to sign up. One source received a text from a friend that read: “Apparently it’s a new testing site that is ‘testing out their system’ for a few days before they open up appointments for the elderly and sick, etc. Anyone can sign up if there are appointments available. Give it a try!”

Additional reporting by Chinekwu Osakwe

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