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Katelyn Reinhart
Cronkite News

Federal funding has reached the Navajo Nation, and President Jonathan Nez is urging tribal leaders to move quickly to approve the distribution of $50 million in funds from the CARES Act.

The proposed legislation would help the tribe distribute services and equipment, Nez said in a virtual town hall meeting Tuesday. The legislation, which must be approved by the Navajo Nation Council, would fund crucial water infrastructure projects, personal protection equipment, hazard pay for Navajo workers and other services.

“We need your help,” Nez said during the virtual meeting. “Talk to your delegates.”

According to a petition in favor of the legislation, which had more than 600 signatures at the time of this story’s publication, the bill “creates a unified approach to developing plans for much-needed water infrastructure that will bring clean water to thousands of Navajo families, elders, and high-risk tribal members.”

Navajo leaders also encouraged those living on the reservation to take care of the older population.

“We’ve spent $1.6 million on funerals,” Vice President Myron Lizer told the town hall. “We can’t just blame the government, we are all part of this.”

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Lizer and Nez said caring for one’s relatives, especially older Navajos who are at higher risk for COVID-19 infection and complications, is the responsibility of the Navajo people.

“We have to shield them from this monster that is taking over our land,” Nez said.

As of June 9, the Arizona Department of Health Services reported 28,296 cases of COVID-19 and 1,070 deaths in the state. It said 409,174 tests for COVID-19 have been completed in public and private labs in Arizona, and 6.915 percent of tests have come back positive for the virus. To date, 5.7 percent of Arizonans have been tested.

How to help

The Navajo & Hopi Families COVID-19 Relief Fund has raised more than $4.7 million to help support Navajo and Hopi communities since it was created March 15, according to a press release. Donations made to the group’s GoFundMe page are used to purchase healthful foods and cleaning supplies. The nonprofit offers regular updates on its GoFundMe and social media pages.

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Indian Country Today has a partnership with Arizona State University where the news organization has its headquarters. The Washington bureau of Indian Country Today is also housed in the ASU building in Washington, D.C.