On the peak of the pandemic, Navajo Nation — which spans greater than 27,000 sq. miles of New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, and Utah — reported the highest per-capita deaths in the country. This devastating development impressed a surge in motion by Diné activists like 31-year-old Allie Younger, who returned to her homeland to work remotely. Because the founding father of Protect the Sacred — a grassroots initiative that educates and empowers Navajo youth about COVID-19 — Younger has been instrumental in getting members of the group vaccinated in opposition to the virus. At present, Navajo Nation is outpacing the rest of the US in terms of vaccine rollout, setting a powerful precedent for the remainder of the nation.
The individuals of Navajo Nation face challenges which have made battling the pandemic significantly exhausting. “Thirty p.c of our group does not have entry to operating water, and 40 p.c of our group does not have entry to electrical energy,” Younger, who additionally works for Los Angeles-based nonprofit Harness, advised CelebrityPie. “Jonathan Nez — the president of the Navajo Nation — has been working with Navajo-owned companies to enhance the damaged infrastructure and to equip extra houses with electrical energy and operating water. The Facilities for Illness Management and Prevention is telling of us to clean their fingers for 20 seconds. It is not as straightforward when you do not have operating water.”
Furthermore, indigenous households residing within the Navajo nation have restricted entry to sources like grocery shops. “Roughly the scale of West Virginia, there are very rural areas, and generally your neighbors are miles aside,” Younger defined. “There are only 13 grocery stores in total.”
“The Facilities for Illness Management and Prevention is telling of us to clean their fingers for 20 seconds. It is not as straightforward when you do not have operating water.”
In response to those challenges, individuals residing within the Navajo Nation banded collectively to assist one another. “The group actually got here collectively so far as mutual help goes,” Younger shared. “We needed to ensure that we have been getting meals and necessities to of us who lived in very distant areas and should haven’t had transportation.”
“Individuals would journey for as much as two hours to the closest grocery shops, which frequently have been in border cities simply outdoors the Navajo Nation,” Younger continued. “Sadly, most of the border cities are typically very racist. We visited these communities to do our procuring and infrequently encountered Trump supporters who did not put on masks.”
Having witnessed a demonstrated want for training and empowerment locally, Younger based Shield the Sacred in March 2020. “We are the first peoples of this land and of this nation, and we have been decimated over the centuries,” she defined. “Now, we solely make up about two p.c of the inhabitants in our personal ancestral homelands. Over time, quite a lot of work has been put into assimilating us and erasing our tradition and languages. We have accomplished such an ideal job revitalizing and preserving our ancestral information. All through the pandemic, there was a real risk to our tradition, languages, and our elders.”
Younger has a succinct reply as to why COVID-19 hit the Navajo Nation significantly exhausting. “We have been seeing that there is been an incredible lack of funding and help for Indian Well being Companies, and that is why we have ended up on this scenario,” she mentioned.
Younger’s first step to addressing the well being disaster was getting info relating to COVID-19 out to her group. “I’ve partnered with the Community Organized Relief Effort and Johns Hopkins Center for American Indian Health to arrange panels,” she defined. “The primary panel was launched as a radio present by means of Gallup Public Radio in New Mexico. We gave individuals details about the vaccine and answered any questions that that they had.”
These panels try to handle the distinctive cultural affect COVID-19 has had on the Navajo Nation. “We had a doctor named Dr. [Rose] Whitehair speak in regards to the science and the info. We additionally had a medication man converse from our cultural perspective about vaccines. We simply completed up our second panel, which mentioned how the pandemic has affected completely different tribal communities throughout the nation in a extra common sense.”
At present, Younger plans to proceed making certain members of Navajo Nation have entry to each COVID-19 testing websites and vaccinations. “The vaccine is one thing that is accessible to us and that we’ve entry to,” she mentioned. “It is one other option to proceed to guard our elders, particularly now that we’re a 12 months into the pandemic and we have seen the way it’s affected our group very negatively.”
A grasp of communication, Younger is now encouraging Navajo youth to faucet into social media to unfold the information about COVID-19 aid choices. “I at all times inform my group that we’re in some methods extra lucky and extra educated than ever earlier than,” Younger mentioned. “We have now entry to issues that our ancestors and our elders did not have entry to. So there are such a lot of methods to get entangled by merely opening up your social media account and seeing the presence of so many nice organizations like Shield the Sacred. There are such a lot of methods to get entangled, there is no excuse anymore.”
Concerned about donating to Protect the Sacred? Head to its web site. Simply $46 will provide a family with their own hygiene kit, which incorporates bleach, hand sanitizer, protecting private gear, and extra.
Picture Supply: Allie Younger