By Miriam Raftery
January 19, 2021 (San Diego’s East County) – Jamul Indian Chairwoman Erica Pinto, newly elected Chair of the California Indian Health Council, sat down for an interview with ECM in January aired on KNSJ radio.
We discussed healthcare issues facing Native Americans in our region, COVID-19, and her goals as the new Chair, including “finding ways to improve our healthcare,” notably finding and retaining doctors for remote rural areas. We also asked her reaction to Pres. Biden's nomination of the first Native AMerican women to head up the Department of the Interior, which oversees the Bureau of Indian Affairs as well as federal public lands.
Funding is a key challenge for Indian healthcare, as well as health conditions such as diabetes in the Native American community.
She offered reassuring news, indicating that disparities in COVID-19 treatments, testing and supplies found on some Native American reservations across the U.S. have not been occurring in Southern California. “We do have enough PPE,” she said, adding that tribal health clinics are providing remote doctor visits during the pandemic.
"We know that our population is vulnerable," she said, adding that tribal leaders are taking care to protect tribal members, particularly elders, to prevent COVID from "spreading like wildfire in our communities. "I wanted to make sure that my tribal members are safe, and so far they are," she stated.
On vaccines, she calling the vaccine a blessing, but acknowleged that there is resistance from some due to historical mistreatment of Native Americans. She says she is "open" to receiving the vaccine when her turn comes.
She praised Pres. Joe Biden’s nomination of Deb Haaland, a Native American woman, as Secretary of the Interior. Pinto calls Haaland an “exceptional choice” adding, “I think all of Indian Country will agree with me.” She believes Haaland will understnd the challenges faced by Native Americans regarding land preservation, healthcare and more. "She's talked about planting 30 million trees...she cares about the environment," she added.
She also discussed the Jamul Casino's efforts to protect guests as much as possible while remaining open during the pandemic, providing critical revenues for the tribe as well as funds to "give back to the community. Most recently, the tribe made a generous donation to the Grossmont Healthcare District to aid in the fight against COVID-19.
In addition, she talked about a beautiful new rooftop venue with expansive views. It's available for socially-distanced events now and larger events in the future including weddings, charitable and business functions.
"I know this year has been very challenging for all of us," she said, citing family separations over the holiday. "There will be times when we get to gather, and I look forward to that. But right now we need to do our part to kick this virus in the ass so that we can hug each other again...let's be gentle, and respect each other."