This is a continuation of yesterday’s post, What does solidarity look like? I hadn’t intended to write so much yesterday about how I came to join the ZOOM meeting of the first episode of SHIFT the Narrative. But as I was writing then, I thought it might be helpful, especially for White people, to share some of my journey of making connections with Indigenous peoples. The tragic history, and continued oppression of Native peoples by White settlers means there are many barriers to overcome.
SHIFT the Narrative is a live, online interview series that covers different aspects of Indigenous political engagement and current issues in Indian Country through interviews with expert guest speakers.https://seedingsovereignty.org/shift-the-narrative
Episode One: SHIFT the Narrative
Join us for our debut episode as we welcome our first guest, Mellor Willie, Navajo, Co-founder and President of 7Gen Leaders PAC. With COVID-19 greatly affecting the Navajo Nation, we are asking political experts like Mellor their thoughts on GOTV (Get Out the Vote) efforts and legislation for aid during this crisis.
The first session’s leader was Mellor Willie, Navajo, Co-founder and President of 7Gen Leaders PAC. Mellor’s degree is related to applied politics which he has been using for political campaigns and fund raising. https://7genleaders.com/.
He says that although PACs (Political action committees) are most often used to get huge amounts of money for political campaigns, the 7Gen Leaders PAC is a way to get funds from tribes, which are used to get Native Americans elected to political offices. The PAC is also a way to keep in contact with Native American supporters.
7Gen Leaders is grounded in Native American culture.
- Native leaders are making decisions today based on thinking of the impact for seven generations to come. They are working on getting other (White) cultures to adopt this thinking.
- The other Native concept that guides the work of Native leaders is “where we step our children will follow”. (which is on the 7Gen Leaders logo)
Mellor then spoke about the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on his, the Navajo peoples. Although he resides in Washington, DC, he came back to his reservation to help with his father, who is in hospice and mother suffering from dementia. (I would feel uncomfortable about sharing such personal information, but this is part of the story he is telling).
He spoke about the differences between on and off reservations. Reservations are usually food deserts. The trips to grocery stores typically take several hours and the shelves are empty when they get there. There is usually poor Internet connectivity, so people often hear news about food availability and other things from the radio.
Despite efforts of the Federal, state and even local governments trying to support people regarding the COVID-19 pandemic, little of that relief is getting to the people on the reservations. Mellor helped setup a Facebook group to coordinate Navajo relief. There is a lot of information on that Facebook page about the effects of COVID-19. Information about that group can be found at the end of this.
Mellor talked about a curfew from 8 pm – 5 am and all day Saturday and Sunday to help slow the spread of the virus. But there are unintended consequences of the curfews, including inadequate time to travel great distances for groceries, making it difficult to check on people and care of livestock.
He said Native Nations need to unify to deal with crises like the coronavirus.
When he was asked if the COVID stimulus packages passed by the US Congress would help Native people, he said there were numerous problems. Some of the first stimulus package went to departments such as the Centers for Disease Control, Bureau of Indian Affairs, Department of the Interior, and Housing and Urban Development. There was no control over how much money was to go to Native communities, and those communities usually didn’t have close relationships with those agencies.
The second stimulus package was for funds for Medicare. That is not getting to Native tribes.
The third package of $8 billion has no formula for distributing that money. There needs to be tribal consultation, but the tribes are having trouble coming together for that. Native tribal communities are so different. And each state has a different way to deal with its Native tribes. It is important to build these relationships now and to deal with future crises. There is a petition regarding the distribution of stimulus funds.
There are few banks that Native peoples use, which is necessary to get stimulus funds.
Mellor was asked about the impact of the pandemic on getting out the vote (GOTV). About the impact on no longer being able to have person to person contact. How can candidates show their leadership?
The focus is on messaging with heavy use of social media. One thing that can help candidates is when they are able to get services to their constituents.
How can people register to vote when social distancing is required? And how can ballot initiatives, which require a certain number of signatures to get on the ballot, gather those signatures?
There is a Native American Voting Rights Coalition https://vote.narf.org/
Mellor says people are looking into how to electronically sign ballots.
He says we have to think outside the box. In times of crisis, Native country has a history of coming up with innovative ideas. A subsistence people know how to deal with limited resources.
Over the next few months 7Gen Leaders will work on encouraging Native candidates and how to support them. And work on ways to register voters and get out the vote in this time of pandemic crisis.
Mellor closed by stressing it is important to participate in the U.S. Census.
I am so grateful I was able to hear this. I really learned a great deal.
We are an all volunteer grassroots indigenous led group operating on the Navajo and Hopi Reservations. The Navajo Nation and Hopi Reservation are extreme food deserts with only 13 grocery stores on Navajo to serve some 180,000 people and only 1 grocery store on Hopi to serve some 3,000 people. These communities also have high numbers of elderly, diabetic, and cancer-afflicted (i.e., high risk) individuals. These communities could be devastated by coronavirus and COVID-19. We want to help these individuals, especially the elderly and families with children, to gain access to the food and water (1/3 of Navajo residents do not have running water) they will need to weather this pandemic. The need is so great. Navajo regularly has roughly 50% unemployment (most of the residents are elderly or children; those who can work often leave the Nation to find jobs), and Hopi seems very similar though I don’t yet know their stats. Please give if you can.
Our goal will be to help the elderly (especially those raising their grandchildren), single parents, and struggling families by helping them buy groceries, water, and health supplies, and by protecting them (and their vulnerable communities) from exposure by engaging volunteers to make the purchases and deliver them to a safe transfer location for the families.
Volunteer email: email@example.com
Western Agency: firstname.lastname@example.org
Eastern Agency: email@example.com
Chinle Agency: firstname.lastname@example.org
Fort Defiance Agency: email@example.com
Northern Agency: firstname.lastname@example.org
PHONE NUMBER: 833-956-1554
Sign the petition: Timing is critical; Demand that Congress Expedite COVID-19 Funds and Resources to Tribal Nations
Navajo & Hopi Families COVID-19 Relief Fund
Rapid Response Initiative