Coronavirus Death Toll is Higher in Navajo Nation Than Any U.S. State. Here’s How You Can Help.

Jimmie Begay loads bags of flour onto a truck for delivery to at-risk residents on the Ramah Navajo Reservation in New Mexico. The Ramah distribution team receives support from nonprofits including Navajo and Hopi Families COVID-19 Relief Fund and McKinley Mutual Aid. (Jasper Colt, USAT)

Caitlynn Mayhew filled the cardboard box with supplies. Clorox wipes. Protein bars. Handmade masks. Toothpaste.

“Basic needs that most people take for granted, we desperately need on the reservation,” she said. “I’m trying to send as much as possible.”

Mayhew is originally from the Cove community on the Navajo Nation. She now lives in Washington state, but has continued to ship resources to her family on the reservation throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

Stretching 27,000 square miles across the Southwest, the Navajo Nation unfolds into Arizona, New Mexico and Utah. Geographically, it’s the largest reservation in the United States — and for over 156,000 Diné (as the Navajo people call themselves), it’s home.

It’s also a region that’s been among the most devastated by COVID-19. With 11,101 infections and 574 confirmed deaths as of Thursday, the Navajo Nation has a higher per capita COVID-19 death rate than any U.S. state.

Over the summer, COVID-19 cases declined — amid strict public health orders and grassroots community relief efforts. But, in recent weeks, the reservation and surrounding areas have reported an uptick in new numbers.

“We need our voice to be heard on a national level,” said Mayhew, pointing to pre-existing infrastructure absences that were amplified with the coronavirus — including daily realities like chronically underfunded healthcare, families living without running water or electricity and high rates of food insecurity — inequities rooted in unfulfilled promises and systemic racism dating back to colonization.

“It shouldn’t have taken a pandemic for the general public to realize that the community here is disadvantaged,” said Mayhew.

Starting as early as January, Diné have rushed to the frontlines to protect their community. Some, like Mayhew, gather supplies for their relatives — even from states away. Others wrap up bundles of medicine for elders, or use their personal vehicles to deliver groceries and hot meals to remote homes.

“That’s just resiliency — that’s just a reaction of our own culture to get through this,” Ira Vandever, incident commander for Baca-Prewitt Chapter of the Navajo Nation, told USA TODAY. “We’ve been dealing with diseases and [injustice] since 1492, when Columbus came. And we’re still here.”

How can you help? Here’s some Native-led nonprofits working to provide COVID-19 relief for the Navajo Nation and Indigenous communities across the country.

Click here to read more.

SOURCE: USA Today, Wyatte Grantham-Philips

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