Navajo Nation—an American Indian territory occupying portions of Arizona, Utah and New Mexico—is experiencing a massive public health crisis as the third most infected coronavirus hotspot in the United States, after New York and New Jersey.
In response, a group of local healthcare professionals enlisted Allie Young to launch an initiative called Protecting the Sacred.
“It’s our call to the youth to step up as heroes in this moment,” Young told NBC News, “and lead that charge to staying home, keeping families home, amplifying the messaging, and sharing it with our tribal nations across the country.”
The Navajo Nation sent out their official call for medical volunteers and donations for PPE and supplies through a video entitled “Dear America.”
The video includes Navajo Nation president Jonathan Nez, Navajo citizens like Wahleah Johns and Radmilla Cody (the 46th Miss Navajo)—as well as stars like Ellen DeGeneres, Mark Ruffalo, Marisa Tomei, Debra Messing, Mark Hammil, Marrianne Williamson and Danny Pino.
“Dear America” calls on the U.S. government to make good on their promise to support the Navajo nation.
The U.S. said Navajo people would be “cared for the way all Americans are,” says Danny Pino, star of Law and Order: Special Victims Unit. Unfortunately, the U.S. has a history of neglecting the Navajo people—and it seems the COVID-19 pandemic is no exception.
“We’ve had to deal with the slowness of the federal government in terms of giving relief to the Navajo,” said President Nez, who’s had to rely on celebrities to draw attention to his tribe “because of the inaction of the federal government.”
In addition to the stars in the video, Nez said he met with Sean Penn, who has partnered with Johns Hopkins to help bring more test kits to the Navajo Nation.
“We are in need of test kits, medicines, personal protective equipment including masks, gowns and face shields,” says Cody in the video.
Nez also told CNN that Navajo does not have enough hospital beds—forcing many to be sent home with the virus.
Since the rise of infection rates in March, Navajo nation has experienced almost 3,000 deaths. Out of the 175,000 Navajo citizens, 30 percent are without running water—making it difficult to employ the hygiene practices required to stop the spread.
Even worse is the federal government’s lack of support: Federal coronavirus relief funding came “came six weeks after it was promised and a week after the government missed a congressional deadline for distribution, and only after suing the federal government over who is eligible for the money.”
In addition to participating in the video, Ruffalo also shared his support of the Navajo Nation on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon and discussed how the Navajo people have had “no federal help whatsoever” and only received “body bags instead of ventilators” and “crappy test kits.”
“These people have been treated so poorly,” said Ruffalo, “The beautiful thing about this is the world is starting to see them now, and people are taking notice and seeing how beautiful their culture is—and that’s what Protect the Sacred is really all about.”
A grassroots initiative to educate and empower Navajo youth and young people, Protect the Sacred seeks to protect Navajo culture and its elders in the community—the most vulnerable population—and overcome the challenges of COVID-19. Houses in Navajo are often cross-generational, and due to close proximity of young people and older adults, the spread of the virus is quick.
“The danger is this: our elders are at the greatest risk. The keepers of our stories, language and culture” said Young, co-creator of Protect the Sacred, “We are resilient. We are survivors. We ask all allies of the Navajo people to help us. Do you hear us?”
Alaska Airlines is offering free round trip flights for medical volunteers who wish to travel to provide COVID-19 relief. To donate to Navajo’s protection project, visit their website and use the hashtag #NavajoStrong to join the movement on social media.