Native American communities have endured more than their fair share of struggles, long before the coronavirus pandemic hit. And now that it's arrived, it's having a disproportionate impact on Navajo Nation, the largest indigenous community in the U.S.
Per capita, Navajo Nation is one of the hardest hit areas of the country, but it doesn't have the infrastructure or resources to wage the battle that needs to be fought. Thirty percent of people living there don't have running water, and forty percent don't have electricity. Though it's approximately the size of West Virginia, Navajo Nation only has 13 grocery stores, 12 health facilities, 170 hospital beds, and 13 ICU beds. That's not really adequate for a population of 175,000 people under normal circumstances, but during a pandemic it's a tragic underservice.
In addition, a good percentage of Navajo Nation is elderly or have health conditions that put them at higher risk of complications from the virus. That's why 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."
Because of the centuries of genocide, colonization, and the oppression of tribal communities," Young told GOOD, "we now only make up two percent of the population and we're fighting for what we have left. We're fighting for the elders we have left."
By protecting elders, these youth are also protecting their native languages, cultures, and traditions. "Our cultures are in jeopardy right now, if we lose our elders," Young told NBC. "They carry a lot about the knowledge and the ceremonies that we, the young people, are still learning. That's what 'protecting the sacred' is—protecting our elders who are very vulnerable to this virus."
Protect the Sacred works largely through social media, calling on young indigenous people to rise up and take the Hero Challenge. They've even enlisted some favorite Marvel superhero stars—actors Mark Ruffalo and Paul Rudd, and Thor Ragnorak director Taika Waititi—to participate in Facebook Live events to help spread the word.
They've also had support from other celebrities who collaborated to make this Dear America video:
Dear America | #NavajoStrongwww.youtube.com
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