As COVID-19 takes a toll on Native communities in the Four Corners, locals are helping those most affected by the virus, the restrictions and the food shortages.
A group of Indigenous women started the Navajo and Hopi Families COVID-19 Relief project. In 10 days, a GoFundMe effort raised $250,000. The movement was the brainchild of Ethel Branch, former attorney general for the Navajo Nation.
Volunteers deliver supplies to elders and families in need so they can follow the stay-at-home order and curfew.
“These high-risk elders that we’re delivering to are often disabled, asthmatic, diabetic,” said Cassandra Begay of the group’s communications team. “Our elders are our knowledge keepers and we are trying to protect them. Any time we lose an elder it is absolutely devastating for our community.”
The group collects and sanitizes non-perishable food and supplies, and delivers to homes based on requests from residents, family members, community health representatives and chapter houses.
“Stockpiling food and other supplies is a luxury many of our families don’t have,” said Janene Yazzie, who coordinates the effort in New Mexico. “We know these types of pandemics disproportionately affect Indigenous people. This has shown us the vast network of people we have to create that social net that all our communities have always deserved.”
“These people don’t have much, but they are helping any way they can, like offering their trucks and trailers to transport supplies,” Begay said. “Our people are resilient, we are strong, we are survivors. For Navajo, our actions are rooted in K’e, which means acknowledging we live our lives in an interconnected and rooted way. We can do this together.”
In Montezuma Creek, Utah, the Utah Navajo Health System started its own relief effort in a similar vein. Spokesman Pete Sands said he asked if he could start delivering firewood, water and necessities, including healthy food, to seniors, and the organization was on board.
So far, he said, on Thursday he had already made 100 deliveries.
While he concentrates his efforts in his hometown, he said he knows communities all over the Navajo Nation are going through the same shortages and have the same concerns.
“Everything is so far away and so scarce,” Sands said. “It’s tough, it’s hard. I think about communities and how to help each other.”