Nonprofit spearheads effort to help eastern chapters
Navajo has been hit by Coronavirus and in these unprecedented times Navajo citizens are banding together to help one another.
In tiny Torreon/Star Lake Chapter, the Torreon Community Alliance, established over a decade ago as a community development nonprofit, has turned its attention to the crisis.
Mario Atencio, executive director of the Alliance, from Na’neelzhiin, and board member Lani Tsinnajinnie, from the Torreon/Star Lake Chapter, and other members, established a relief effort to help those impacted by the coronavirus in the far eastern Navajo chapters.
“We established this relief due to the immense impact COVID-19 is having on the far east communities of the Navajo Nation,” said Atencio. “Torreon, Counselors, Ojo Encino are 70 to 90 miles east of Crownpoint and that makes for challenging logistics for Window Rock- and Crownpoint-based effort.”
As of Tuesday evening there was a total of 426 COVID-19 cases on Navajo with 17 deaths, and those numbers will increase. In New Mexico counties there has been 32 cases in McKinley County; San Juan has 66; Cibola, 8; Socorro, 2; and Bernalillo, 1.
Atencio has partnered with another organization known as the Navajo-Hopi Families COVID-19 Relief Fund. As a legislative district assistant to Health, Education and Human Services Chairman Daniel Tso, Atencio said the delegate, who is also on the Torreon Community Alliance board, asked that they take up this initiative to help.
“Because we have some funds readily available, we wanted to be able to support families and community members who are in immediate need of assistance,” said Tsinnajinnie. “These families and community members might have had to otherwise wait longer to receive assistance due to the logistics it takes to get assistance from other resources.” Still in the beginning stages of their relief efforts, the Torreon Alliance is accepting contributions to their GoFundMe page.
So far they have raised over $9,600 and these funds, which are released monthly, will be used to supplement and support the emergency efforts by the chapters. Tsinnajinnie said they are working closely with Tso to identify needs in the community. Their main concern is elders who aren’t able to drive far to purchase the necessities and supplies.
“The concern are the basic staples that people will willingly consume,” said Atencio. “People need the basics – Sheepherder Specials – and we feel that these meals will help people who need it the most.” There is also a need for well-built facemasks and non-perishable food. The Navajo Nation as a whole has received about $2.7 million from enterprises for the tribe’s efforts to fight the coronavirus. Last month, Tso and the Navajo Nation Council approved an emergency bill of $4 million to go toward these efforts as well.
The Nation is still waiting to receive their piece of the $10 billion of emergency funding from the $2 trillion stimulus passed by Congress. But community members and organizations believe why should they wait when they can work together to help one another, especially with the slow pace of the central government bringing assistance to chapters.
“The assistance so far has been reasonable,” said Atencio. “The process for non-certified chapters is problematic as it needs various levels of approval.
“Certified chapters seem to be able to process those monies quicker,” he said. “Far east chapter communities always lived with the mantra that they are going to have to do it themselves as Window Rock either takes forever or will never show up.
“So they are trying to mobilize all their resources to prepare and encourage the people so as to endure the pandemic,” he said. “This attitude should help any formal Navajo Nation response should they approach these chapters.”
The group is following all Health Command Operation Center directives and any orders from the Navajo Nation. Some chapters are fully engaging “strike teams” and developed emergency plans. The strike teams consist of chapter health leaders and officials and they have lists of the most needy of their communities.
“These funds would follow the emergency plans to purchase essential goods and supplies to help support those people to stay at home,” said Atencio. As an assistant professor in community and regional planning at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, Tsinnajinnie said water is an issue in eastern, which is another issue that western Navajo is facing.
So they have been in touch with tribal, state, and congressional officials who are working on finding ways to get water delivered to these areas. Great strides have happened in the past three weeks to get people to stay home in order to slow the virus.
Emergency orders include the 8-p.m.-to-5-a.m. curfew, stay-at-home, banning of mass gatherings and banning of tourist and visitors to Navajo. All will be met with citations from Navajo Nation Police if they are not followed. This weekend a 57-hour curfew will begin starting at 8 p.m. Friday and ending at 5 a.m. on Monday.
Atencio believes the reason it’s been so difficult for people to abide by the orders is because people have become accustomed to not trusting Navajo leaders.
“In the past people respected leaders and because of continuous graft and underhanded politics the people seem to have lost the respect for the idea of government,” said Atencio. “It is tough to change such attitudes and for people on the ground it is a continuous hope that soon the people will start to take proactive efforts to protect their families by staying home and practicing social distancing,” he said.