Influenza in Indian Country: Sickness, Suffering, and Survival during the 1918-1919 Pandemic


ACLS Fellowship Program




The influenza pandemic of 1918-1919 killed over 50 million people worldwide, including more than 675,000 in the United States. Indian country—the area within the United States inhabited by the nation’s indigenous peoples—was particularly hard hit. According to a 1919 report, 78,177 Native people caught influenza and 6,632 died out of a population of 320,654. This project explores how influenza infected indigenous people on reservations and boarding schools across the United States, how their living conditions exacerbated the effects of the virus, how institutionalized segregation and racialized medical thought limited Native access to healthcare, how indigenous people responded medically, and how this health crisis affected the federal-tribal relationship. By combining the methodologies of medical history and ethnohistory, it highlights both the biological consequences of influenza on Native American communities and how social constructions of race, ethnicity, sickness, and healing shaped the experience of infection for indigenous people.