When I think back to the early stages of the pandemic, amidst the anxiety and recipes for sourdough starter, I vividly remember all the news reports about how New York and New Jersey (where I’m from - yay!) were being hit the hardest. But while the national government and news stations were focusing on these two states, another place was getting hit nearly as hard with little to no coverage- Navajo Nation, the largest reservation in North America. In the weeks it took for federal aid to finally be sent, the Navajo managed to flatten the curve through contact tracers and strike teams but not before having more deaths per capita than any US state. This jarring statistic is probably making you wonder two things. Why were the Navajo hit so hard? What can we do to help? Read more to find out some answers to both questions.
WHY DID COVID-19 DISPROPORTIONATELY IMPACT THE NAVAJO?
Though the 80 plus official contact tracers worked tirelessly to reduce the amount of new cases, they were dealing with an area that lacks a lot of infrastructure that other communities take for granted. In order to track and minimize the spread of the virus, they were put in charge of a population of roughly 173,000 individuals, many of whom live hours apart and don’t have access to a phone. For a virus that spreads so easily, this often meant tracking down dozens of potential carriers after learning of one positive case. But a larger reason for this exorbitant amount of deaths was a lack of support from the United States federal government, something that is sadly normal for Navajo leaders. "We are United States citizens but we're not treated like that..." Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez told NPR. "We once again have been forgotten by our own government."
Take, for example, the Indian Health Service (IHS), a federal agency in charge of providing public health services to the over 2.2 million Native Americans and Alaska Natives. Though the IHS technically fulfils treaty requirements, it’s constantly underfunded by Congress- the average amount of money allotted to Native Americans through the IHS is 70% less than what’s allotted per person to veterans and 78% less than what’s allotted to individuals on Medicare. Additionally, limited funds mean that the IHS facilities in the Navajo Nation are few and far between, with only around a dozen hospitals serving a population spread out over land the size of West Virginia. Though they’ve gotten their numbers way down through a mix of local government policy and individual commitment to wearing masks, many members of the Navajo Nation continue to be affected by the initial impacts of the pandemic in the spring. With that being said, let’s check out some ways you can help out!
WHERE CAN I DONATE?
One of the easiest ways to give back, if you have the funds, is simply to donate. There are numerous funds set up specifically for supporting the Navajo during the COVID-19 pandemic, like the Navajo Nation COVID-19 Response Donation Fund, Navajo Strong, and Far East Navajo COVID-19 Response Fund. Any donations you give to these organizations help to deliver critical supplies to Navajo families and communities who may not have access to food, water, or sanitation supplies. Other charities are more focused on the systemic issues that the Navajo people face. The Navajo Water Project, for example, brings hot and cold water to Navajo families who don’t have access to water or sewage lines.
NAVAJO-OWNED BUSINESSES TO SUPPORT
Another way of helping is as simple as buying from Native-owned small businesses. Though it might seem less direct than donating to charities, prioritizing Navajo-owned businesses means that financial resources are going directly to members of the community. We obviously can’t list every single small business founded by a member of the Navajo, but we can list some in a few different categories.
If you’re anything like me, this new phase of the pandemic has been characterized by you randomly “treating yourself” to small trinkets and accessories. If you’re a jewelry lover, try checking out Always Lulu Designs, Nizhoni Lee, Deel Jewelry or N8TiveArts. If self-care looks a little more like scented soaps, body scrubs or graphic liners, Shimá, Nizhoni Soaps and Ah-Shi Beauty have got you covered. Are your walls looking a little bare? Let Nani Chacon Art and Bad Winds help you out. If you’re just trying to shop from Native-owned businesses more often, RezRising and Beyond Buckskin both have extensive lists of Native-owned brands in almost every category imaginable.
Read More: To hear about more of these businesses, check our our article on 12 Native-owned brands we love!
WHY ARE FINANCIAL RESOURCES IMPORTANT?
Information about living on stolen land or how the government continues to ignore the needs of Native communities is definitely important, but information can only do so much. To really make a difference, we have to do better than just posting memes on our story about how Columbus was a serial rapist and mass murderer. We all know he sucks. Let’s put our money where our mouth is and try to help the Navajo Nation through a crisis that’s still impacting them. Donating money to the listed charities or even just bookmarking some of the Navajo-owned brands named above helps give financial resources to an oft-overlooked community that has the leadership, skills and willpower to thrive.