Students on the country’s largest Native American reservation spoke to first lady Jill Biden on Friday about challenges they’ve faced during the coronavirus pandemic, including poor internet service and feelings of isolation.
The hourlong discussion took place at Hunters Point Boarding School, a small, aging grade school in St. Michaels, on the outskirts of the Navajo Nation capital. Each explained there were times when they couldn’t get online for classes on the vast and remote reservation, which encompasses parts of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah, said Lesley Tohtsoni, who moderated the talk. Biden told them help was on the way for broadband through her husband’s administration.
The students told Biden about their communities and what they’ve learned about their strengths and weaknesses in the past year, Tohtsoni said. They also talked about ways to maintain their mental health and stay connected with teachers and friends. He told her Navajos are social people, and it was hard to not meet with classmates in the summer and to skip an annual family reunion. But, he said, they’re also resilient and understood the need to stay home to curb the spread of the coronavirus. Biden said she feels for students who have struggled during the pandemic with losing loved ones and attending classes via Zoom. She encouraged them to keep journals.
Biden also visited a COVID-19 vaccination site on the reservation before returning to Albuquerque for her flight back to Washington. She spent the first day of her trip to the Navajo Nation on Thursday listening to female tribal leaders whom she referred to as her “sister warriors” about the broader needs on the reservation.
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