Stephen Louis

Stephen Louis, an incoming senior at Higley High, is holding a drive at the school parking lot next Saturday to collect badly needed supplies for virus-stricken Native American communities in Arizona. 

Higley High School’s booster clubs are poised to help with a donation drive benefiting the Navajo Nation, Hualapai Tribe and Hopi Tribe in northern Arizona. 

 “My son said, ‘mom, people are dying, we have to do something,’” said Charlene Jackson-Etnire, who spearheaded the drive. “It’s something that impacts us, it involves our people.”

Jackson-Etnire and her son Stephen Louis are members of the Navajo Nation while her husband is a member of the Hopi Tribe. She also is an attorney for the Hualapai Tribe.

Native Americans are disproportionately affected by COVID-19 due to factors such as lack of running water and limited access to medical care.

The Navajo Nation, headquartered in Window Rock, in May laid claim to having the highest per capital level of COVID-19 cases in the country. Arizona has 21 federally recognized tribes.

Jackson-Etnire said her 17-year-old son, who plays varsity football and will be a senior at Higley this year, told her there was a team requirement for a community service project, which couldn’t be met because everything was canceled. 

He suggested “maybe do a donation drive and help the people back home.”

Jackson-Etnire, who is on the school’s football booster club, said she approached Higley head football Coach Eddy Zubey, who readily supported the idea.

“And I went to the booster club and they all agreed and I asked the athletic director and he took it up a notch and involved all the boosters in Higley,” Jackson-Etnire said.

Last week, the Navajo Nation reported a total of 269 deaths and 5,808 positive COVID-19 cases.  

The Navajo Nation’s reservation spreads into Apache, Navajo and Coconino counties in Arizona and parts of New Mexico and Utah. The 2010 U.S. Census counted 153,323 Navajo living on the Navajo Nation, which makes it the second largest tribe in the country.

The Hualapai Tribe with 1,415 members in 2019, reported nine deaths and 94 positive COVID-19 cases as of June 4 and the Hopi Tribe reported 79 tribal members tested positive for the virus as of June 5. The tribe had 12,038 residents in 2019, according to the state health department.

Jackson-Etnire said last week all three tribes are still on lockdown. 

The donation flier also notes the tribes are located in rural areas that are “considered food scarce,” where “people must travel distances to simply shop for groceries and household supplies.”

The tribes, where the poverty rate is nearly double the rest of the country, also got hit by job and income loss stemming from the pandemic.

Two of the tribes also are receiving help through a Navajo & Hopi Families COVID-19 Relief Fund, which has served over 8,000 households in 81 of the 110 Navajo Chapters and seven of the 12 Hopi Villages, according to a news release.  

The fund has so far raised over $4.7 million – which brings approximately $100,000 worth of food, water and essential items to Navajo and Hopi communities each week with enough to continue providing direct relief for another 11 months.

The primary objective of the Relief Fund is to flatten the curve on the Navajo Nation and the Hopi reservations, primarily through providing food and water to high risk, vulnerable and COVID-positive community members so they are able to stay home and practice social distancing.

“Our all-volunteer leadership team remains steadfast and committed to diligently protecting the well-being and health of vulnerable Navajo and Hopi community members during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Relief Fund founder Ethel Branch. 

“This effort has grown from a small crowdfunding campaign with a handful of volunteers shopping, sanitizing and making deliveries, to a massive region-wide effort with international attention in just 12 weeks,” Branch added.

Jackson-Etnire said she preferred not to accept money donations and referred people to the tribes’ websites to donate instead. But if anyone wants to donate money at the event, she will take a check or money order made out to the individual tribe and have it delivered.

“I have family out there,” Jackson-Etnire said. “They are on lockdown and it’s a very scary situation and I’ve not been up there since all of this started. It’s sad.”