Mark Ruffalo, Ellen DeGeneres call attention to medical needs on Navajo Nation
GALLUP — Celebrities like Mark Ruffalo, Marisa Tomei and Ellen DeGeneres are appearing in a campaign to bring attention to the need for personal protective equipment, supplies and medical volunteers for health care facilities on the Navajo Nation.
The actors and television host appear in a public service announcement that spotlights the need as the tribe continues to grapple with the novel coronavirus, which has resulted in more than 2,600 positive cases for COVID-19 and 85 deaths.
Protect the Sacred co-creator Allie Young was inspired to create the online video after talking with friends about challenges and conditions they face while working at Northern Navajo Medical Center in Shiprock.
"It's very hard for them to see day to day what's happening on the ground. I've seen them get emotional," Young said.
"It's me worrying about them and wanting to help in any way that I can. If this video can increase the numbers of volunteers coming in, then I'll be very happy," she said later.
The Protect the Sacred website has information for donating medical supplies to the tribe and for health care providers to volunteer. The video is available there and under "Dear America | #NavajoStrong" on YouTube.
While the video draws attention to the critical need, the celebrities — along with Young, Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez and other Diné — inform viewers that the slow response by the federal government to address the outbreak is part of decades of broken promises to tribal nations.
Young mentioned in the May 6 telephone interview that the Navajo Nation had yet to receive a piece of the $8 billion allocated to tribes under the CARES Act. Later that day, Navajo officials said the tribe received $600 million from the federal relief package.
The video also serves as the start for a campaign called "Navajo Strong," which Young hopes provides encouragement to the Diné while reinforcing the strength and resilience of the people.
"As we're seeing rising numbers in cases and deaths, we felt like 'Navajo Strong' was a great campaign to launch," she said.
Young, who is originally from Kirtland, has hosted livestream events on Facebook to connect Ruffalo with Native American youth to talk about the pandemic in tribal communities and another with Ruffalo, actor Paul Rudd and director Taika Waititi to open a "hero challenge" for Diné youth to stay at home and use the opportunity to further their knowledge about Diné culture.
"Mark Ruffalo has been helping us since the beginning and has been a part of helping Protect the Sacred grow," she said. "I have a relationship with him, he's a friend of mine. We've done a couple of different projects together around advocacy for Indian Country."
Her connection to Hollywood stems from working with Harness, an organization co-founded by actress America Ferrera and actor Wilmer Valderrama that works toward shifting dominant narratives about social issues in communities of color.
Protect the Sacred is a grassroots initiative supported by Harness and in partnership with voter rights advocacy group, We Stand United, and the organization, Native Renewables, whose goal is to bring solar power to homes on Navajo and Hopi lands.
Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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