When the Covid-19 made its way to Navajo Nation, activist Allie Young found her mission.
Young was born in Navajo Nation, and moved back to stay with family during the pandemic. In March 2020, she founded “Protect the Sacred,” a grassroots initiative to educate and empower Navajo Youth, and young people throughout Indian Country.
“We’re supposed to receive quality healthcare for being pushed onto reservations, but that hasn’t been the case. And the pandemic has revealed how broken the infrastructure is in our healthcare system,” said Young.
When the stimulus package was announced, the Trump administration didn’t initially include Navajo Nation. In June, a federal judged ordered the Treasury to distribute $679 million in Covid-19 relief to tribes after it was withheld for months.
“We’re still mourning our loved ones who should still be here. They were preventable deaths,” Young told Yahoo Life. “It’s about protecting what we have left. And we always say the little we have left because our people, our languages, our cultures have been decimated since first contact.”
One of the main missions of “Protect the Sacred is to preserve the culture and language of Navajo people. With the Covid-19 disproportionally affecting older people, Young spread education on how to protect tribal elders. She sees their role in Navajo Nation as one that is irreplaceable.
“Learn our language. Learn simple phrases in Navajo and post that on Tik Tok or Instagram like many other young Indigenous people,” said Young. "We think about our elders and all of what our ancestors have been through for us to be here today. And then we think about our youth and future generations. I’ll do anything for my people."
ALLIE YOUNG: We're still mourning our relatives who should still be here, like they were preventative deaths. It's about protecting what we have left. And we always say the little that we have left because our people, our languages, our cultures have been decimated since first contact.
BRITTANY JONES-COOPER: Hi, everyone. I'm Brittany Jones-Cooper. And welcome to Unmuted. Today, I'm chatting with Allie Young, the founder of Protect the Sacred, an initiative designed to empower Navajo youth and educate the community about COVID-19. I know COVID hit Navajo Nation pretty early on pretty hard. What contributed to that?
ALLIE YOUNG: We're supposed to receive quality health care for being pushed onto reservations. But that hasn't been the case, and the pandemic has revealed how broken the infrastructure is in our health care system. The Trump administration had delayed funding to tribal nations, didn't even include us in the initial stimulus package. And it took the community really coming together.
I mean, that's why we stepped in as Protect the Sacred. And my relationship with Mark Ruffalo helped tremendously to get the word out. We started a campaign called Navajo Strong and released some PSAs and calling out to medical volunteers even to come to the Navajo Nation bringing in funding and also PPE to the reservation because there was not enough.
BRITTANY JONES-COOPER: Wow. So there are some real systemic issues at play here. I read that both your grandparents got COVID. Are they doing OK now?
ALLIE YOUNG: They're doing OK now. They're both fully vaccinated, so they got both shots. For our people, it comes down to having faith. And that's what we really had to lean into our culture, our faith in Mother Earth and creator, and our medicine ways, our herbs, in the way that we pray. And that's exactly what my grandparents-- that's how they fought the virus.
BRITTANY JONES-COOPER: Preserving the culture is so important, especially when we know that COVID-19 targeted the elderly community. What sort of impact does that have on the Navajo community? And how important is it to have that communication with your elders?
ALLIE YOUNG: It's vital to who we are as Diné people, to our culture, and our language and our identity. I do think that our cultures are in danger of being wiped out. Our elders are the culture bearers. They're the fluent language speakers, and they're the ones that we're still learning all of this knowledge from. And so it is very scary.
We've been focusing on targeting native youth. Take this time at home to reconnect with their grandparents, learn our language, learn simple phrases in Navajo, and post that on TikTok or Instagram. Like many other young Indigenous people, we think about our elders and all of what our ancestors have been through for us to be here today. And then we think about our youth and the future generations. I'll do anything for my people.
BRITTANY JONES-COOPER: Congrats on all the work that you've been doing. I think it's so important to connect the youth to our culture, to our elderly. And that role that you're playing is so important and crucial to Navajo Nation. Continue to do it, and we'll be watching.
ALLIE YOUNG: Thank you so much.