As of May 18, the Navajo Nation has the highest per capita coronavirus infection rate in the U.S., surpassing New York and New Jersey.
Unlike other regions, though, the largest reservation in the country is facing the coronavirus pandemic with a drastically limited set of tools. Navajo Nation, which extends into Utah, New Mexico, and Arizona, isn’t alone in this: A host of underlying inequalities are currently compounding the threat posed by the coronavirus for all those who live within ancestral territory, as Farina King, an affiliate of the Cherokee and Indigenous studies department at Northeastern State University, told Mashable.
To begin, a lack of access to clean water on many reservations makes the hand washing necessary for curbing coronavirus’ spread extremely difficult. (According to a 2019 study from the US Water Alliance and DIGDEEP, Native Americans are more likely to face barriers to water access than any other group in the U.S.) Additionally, King, who is an assistant professor of history, points out that far-flung and sometimes underfunded hospitals and limited grocery store access are contributing to the fast spread and difficult containment of coronavirus on reservations. Further, with many , the virus can spread quickly within individual households. On top of that, strict weekend lockdowns imposed by Navajo Nation leadership are also restricting peoples’ ability to access some essentials there.
“Many people live in close quarters with difficulty of self-isolation if needed,” explains King, who is Diné. “We have family in this situation. But of course, families are doing the best they can to isolate when needed. It is very hard.”
What’s more, King notes, there are high rates of underlying conditions, such as heart disease and diabetes, that put many of those in Native American communities especially at risk to the virus’ most dangerous effects.
And for many tribal nations, revenue is now drying up. Casino closures, for instance, have quickly decimated an important revenue stream for Indigenous communities. Phillip Smith, a physician working in the Navajo Nation, also pointed out that those living in the interior of reservations (that is, farther away from non-tribal land), often rely on seasonal tourism work from people visiting reservations, a source of revenue also eviscerated with coronavirus-spurred closures.
If all this paints a dire portrait that sounds like a worst case scenario, it probably means you’re starting to understand just a sliver of the severity that the coronavirus poses to Indigenous communities.
But Alastair Bistoi, communication director for Utah Diné Bikéyah, a nonprofit supporting a five tribe coalition, points out that a tendency exists, especially in those not versed in historical precedent, to learn about the spread of coronavirus and blame the conditions that caused the resulting havoc on those living on reservations. Of course, that’s far from the case, and those involved with Indigenous communities want to make this clear.
This continues up to present day: The federal coronavirus relief bill, or CARES Act, allocated $8 billion to Native American tribes, but the payment has faced delays. Even as funds are now trickling out, money needed to meet urgent needs, such as food and water, as well as funds for crucial supplies, like PPE, are already arriving late in many cases, King notes.
In the meantime, though, there are a number of Native American-led donation efforts that you can support to assist communities on reservations in getting access to essential supplies.
These efforts are being organized by Native American people who are deeply engaged with these communities, which King views as essential: Because of lockdowns, the fact that households on reservations are often spread out, and that some people lack mailing addresses, she points out that it’s often proven difficult to get aid to all those who need it. Direct deliveries to those in need can sometimes be the only way for aid to arrive.
Unless you happen to live on or near ancestral tribal land, your donation to on-the-ground efforts is likely the most efficient way to get help to those on reservations who need it right now. Here are some recommended fundraisers. And you can find a detailed guide on choosing where to donate here.
Bluff Area Mutual Aid (BAMA) started providing aid to Native American households in the Bluff, Utah area on March 17, which meant the volunteers and leadership team with the mutual aid network were able to reach those in remote areas (due to the make-up of the Bluff area) before other formalized forms of aid from tribal governments had been implemented.
Though BAMA initially focused primarily on door-to-door deliveries for those requesting aid, such as food and hygiene products, a BAMA representative told Mashable via email that the mutual aid group is now focusing on assisting the agencies providing aid.
Thus, BAMA now facilitates monetary donations for the Utah Navajo Health System and the Navajo Nation Department of Health, in addition to directly delivering supplies to families where possible. Accordingly, the representative explained that donations to BAMA’s GoFundMe (which can be made here) will fund door-to-door food and essential supply deliveries to families, bulk orders of essential supplies for local branches of the Navajo Nation government, and direct support for the Utah Navajo Health System and the Navajo Nation Department of Health.
Essential supplies purchased from the donations will then be managed and delivered by a team of volunteers and residents to get them to those who need it. If you’re looking to donate non-monetary aid to BAMA, such as sending PPE, individuals should reach out to BAMA directly before shipping anything. Depending on the donation, organizers with BAMA might direct the donation straight to one of the organizations mentioned above that it’s supporting.
This fund went about as viral as any GoFundMe campaign can go — and for a heartening reason. Back in 1847, during the Irish Potato Famine, the Choctaw Nation sent $170 to Ireland to help those starving from the ruined crops.
In an act of recognition for the Choctaw Nation’s act, people in Ireland donated to the fund in recent weeks, with affirming messages thanking Indigenous communities in the U.S. for their kindness over 170 years ago. Many donors also noted the particular generosity of the Choctaw’s original gift given its timing: Not long before, those in the tribe were violently and forcibly relocated from their homeland by the U.S. government in a deadly march now known, alongside others, as the Trail of Tears.
You can find the fund here. To date, the campaign has raised over $4 million.
According to a statement from the fund’s organizers, money raised through the campaign goes towards purchasing essentials like water, groceries, and health supplies for those on the Navajo and Hopi reservations who are elderly, immunocompromised, mobility-impaired, or otherwise struggling. The supplies are then being delivered by volunteers.
Additionally, volunteers with the fund are sewing masks and other PPE for first responders and medical workers on the Navajo and Hopi reservations. When you donate, your money will also go towards fabric purchases in order for volunteers to sew masks.
“Amid organizing and coordinating a response to the many assistance requests for food and basic essentials, it came to light there was a shortage of masks for hospital personnel,” Hatathlie-Delmar, lead seamstress for the relief fund, said in a May 14 statement about the mask efforts. “A few days after the launch of our group, the requests for masks from hospitals and first responders came flooding in. Every day since then our group has sewn and sent masks out.”
Per the statement, 18,000 masks have been made thus far.
As the only official fundraising effort directly from the Navajo Nation itself, donations made to the fund will be allocated for immediate medical and community needs, which will be coordinated through the Nation’s Department of Justice and Office of the Controller. You can donate here.
The fund is also open to non-monetary donations. A full list of needed supplies can be found here, separated by medical and community needs. Medical needs include N95 masks, gloves, and goggles, while community needs include hand soap, bottled water, and non-perishable food. To make donations of this kind, you can either call (928) 871-6206 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Additionally, homemade masks can be mailed via FedEx or UPS using the label “Navajo Nation – Donations,” to a location listed at the same link as well.
Funds raised through this campaign will go to efforts helping those in communities in the far east of Navajo Nation, per a statement about the fund. You can donate here.
The money raised will then go directly to the Torreon Community Alliance, a community-centered organization in Cuba, New Mexico, which is partnering with far east communities to purchase and distribute emergency supplies to high-risk elders, according to a Torreon Community Alliance representative.
Emergency supplies are distributed in the form of emergency food and sanitation boxes, the contents of which will be purchased with donations, per the representative. The boxes are then distributed by volunteers, including those with a Torreon, New Mexico volunteer fire department. In addition to elders, some of these food boxes are now also going to those who have tested positive and self-isolated in order to help their families stay home.
For those uncomfortable sending money online, there’s also the option to send a check, the logistics of which are explained on the GoFundMe’s homepage.
Unlike other more targeted donation campaigns, Protect Native Elders is focused on tribes all across the U.S., in an effort to fulfill PPE needs for elders. (You can donate here. Donations are tax-deductible, thanks to a fiscal sponsor.)
According to an emailed statement from those behind the fund, donations are distributed in order to “optimize for maximum impact,” meaning that the organizers routinely look at emerging coronavirus epicenters, the amount of aid previously received, and the number of cases in order to determine how and where to most effectively distribute goods.
Monetary donations are used primarily to buy PPE, while some of the funds also go to food, water, and cleaning supplies (as well as shipping costs and gas money for those driving to deliver donations.)
To get supplies to those in need, organizers behind Protect Native Elders are using a combination of drop shipping and courier delivery. Per the emailed statement, organizers are also working with those directly in given communities to personally make deliveries to individuals, and they’ve set up a distribution hub in the Navajo Nation to organize larger donations.
A collaborative effort from a range of Utah partners to support the state’s eight federally recognized tribes, Utah Tribal COVID-19 Relief is looking for both supply and monetary donations.
Those looking to donate supplies, like bottled water, masks, and hand sanitizer, can ship them directly to the Utah Navajo Health System (UNHS) office. (The team behind Utah Tribal COVID-19 Relief has partnered with UNHS to distribute donated items within the Utah portion of Navajo Nation. Surplus supplies will go to the remainder of the Navajo Nation in Arizona and New Mexico.)
Recognizing the immediate need of the Navajo Nation, a portion of all monetary donations will be used to supplement the supply donations received for the Navajo Nation, while the rest will be distributed to all of Utah’s tribes, according to the representative. You can directly donate here. (The donations, which are tax-deductible, will be collected through May 31.)