In a nutshell
Protect Native Elders is a group of Native American activists and San Francisco Bay Area techies working to deliver PPE, food, water and other essentials to Native American communities.
They came together “apparently randomly” on social media at the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic. They were united in their understanding of the exceptional danger that COVID-19 brought to Native Americans and decided they needed to “do something.”
Their answer was to build an impressive rapid-response network that serves vulnerable communities.
As a result of their efforts, this Native-led, inter-tribal group is now working with Indigenous people’s nations all across the United States, Mexico and Canada.
Why Protect Native Elders matters
COVID-19 disproportionately affects Native Americans and the elderly across America.
In Native culture, Elders are the keepers of the wisdom and knowledge of the people. Because of the absence of any meaningful government support, COVID-19 has created a crisis that threatens to decimate an entire generation of Native Elders.
Protect Native Elders was formed to help safeguard the rich culture that has been passed on by Elders for countless generations.
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A little background
In the spring of 2020, Native American Nations were still waiting for CARES Act COVID-19 funding from the US government. They were calling for a response to the desperate situation on the ground.
The clock was ticking.
A small group of activists and techies who had been talking on social media decided that “waiting for help to arrive was no longer an option.”
The virus was wreaking havoc on Native American communities. For instance in New Mexico where Native Americans make up less than 10% of the population, they accounted for over one-third of coronavirus cases in the state by the end of July 2020.
Meanwhile, infection rates and death tolls were skyrocketing.
As a result, the virus was increasingly threatening the lives of a particularly treasured part of these communities – the elders.
The grassroots organization Protect Native Elders was launched in April 2020.
Given the scope of their operations, the group works remotely. Even today, many of its members have still never met.
Initially, they focused their efforts on the southwestern nations of Navajo, Zuni, and Apache, consulting with tribal leaders.
Meanwhile, their service was urgently needed.
In many instances, Protect Native Elders was the only source of PPE for the first responders who were serving these communities.
They leveraged “a unique combination of on-the-ground community connections and tech experience.” By doing so, they scaled up quickly and expanded their reach.
Consequently, this group of unpaid volunteers successfully sourced and delivered over 660,000 items of PPE with a value of almost $800,000 to over 60 groups in only 5 months.
Likewise, in October 2020 Protect Native Elders tested using a fully robotic, unmanned cargo plane to deliver necessities to a distant community in the Navaho Nation.
The big picture
Most importantly, the work that Protect Native Elders is doing to deliver PPE is critical because each piece of equipment impacts countless lives and generations to come.
In addition, they are working with particularly vulnerable communities that face unique challenges such as:
- Multigenerational households make self-isolation difficult or impossible.
- “Wash your hands often with soap and water.” Many health guidelines such as these are simply meaningless in communities where up to 40% of homes have no running water, sinks, bathtubs or toilets.
- Inadequate infrastructure – roads, electricity, phone and internet.
- Broken supply chains requiring long hours of travel create “food deserts” in many communities.
- Heavy pollution of the water table in some areas.
- A high prevalence of health risk factors, such as diabetes and poor nutrition.
This entirely self-organised, volunteer group fills a glaring gap in the delivery of PPE to Native communities.
They have developed an elegantly simple logistics tool where Native American groups can log in and post their requests for PPE. The tool is free of charge on their website where requests and delivery status can be tracked.
While they serve the needs of all members of the community, Protect Native Elders’ main focus remains the elders. Elders are the keepers of the language and holders of the sacred traditions of their communities.
Protect Native Elders continues to do what it can to ensure the health and wellbeing of these precious people.
Who we talked with
Co-founders Bleu Adams and Dmitri Novomeiski and Co-Organizer Marian Reynov
Take action: donate and share their GoFundMe campaign
Learn more: Check out their website protectnativeelders.org or Instagram @protectnativeelders and Protect Native Elders on FB
Featured photo credit: Protect Native Elders – Instagram