'Quite a bit of relief' in Kayenta

Curlinda Blacksheep

Patty Talahongva

Newscast for Thursday July 23, 2020 with guests from Team Rubicon

In March a small community on the Navajo Nation recorded the tribe's first positive case of the coronavirus. Chilchinbeto, in the far northern part of Arizona, just west of the four corners region, became the hot spot on the Navajo Nation as the pandemic spread across the country. 

First, two cases were reported and within a week the number had grown to more than a dozen. The closest hospital is nearly 100 miles away. 

Within weeks volunteers with Team Rubicon were on the ground in Kayenta, the closest town with a medical center, to help with the influx of patients.

Jeff Byard is the vice president of government relations and emergency management for Team Rubicon. The team also worked with local groups as they helped the community face the pandemic. Curlinda Blacksheep is a survivor of COVID-19 and she is now helping Team Rubicon educate the Navajo people about the coronavirus. 

Here are some comments from Jeff Byard: 

"I actually got called by some of the senior staff members at Health and Human Services to see what capabilities Team Rubicon could provide in the Navajo Nation. After I spoke with some of the officials there at the reservation we were able to get some of our staff in to start doing assessments."

"We call those volunteers greyshirts, that's our uniform. And as you know, we're primarily a veteran based organization. Our volunteers, our staff are familiar with moving quickly and have skill sets. This was our largest domestic medical missions that we've done and specifically in the reservation was our largest. It allowed us to put our volunteers in a great place of need and do some good work."

"So at total peak, we had a little over 65 volunteers on the ground with some of our full-time incident management staff we were able to support, not just at the medical center but actually with the EMS folks on the ambulances. We've rendered aid or helped assistance with over 2000 patients throughout our time on the reservation. We've been there from the start, from the time we hit the ground."

"One of the unique features of Team Rubicon is we're going to get to a 'yes.' So, we may come in to do one mission and if there's a need there and we can do it, we'll figure out a way to get to yes. And again, the support from the reservation support from the Navajo Nation is really the key we're there to support the need. And we feel like this has been a very successful mission."

"We're committed for the long haul. The good thing is that the mission is winding down and that's a positive sign that means that the reservation systems can handle where they are."

"We're actually going to announce a job for a tribal liaison associate to work with me here in the D.C. office because we feel like that we can expand not just in the Navajo Nation, but in all of our tribal nations."

Here are some comments from Curlinda Blacksheep:

"So we currently live between two areas that became the hotspot immediately right from the get go in March. We were very safe following the CDC guidelines as far as disinfecting wearing masks and being careful and doing the president's, stay-at-home, stay-in-place order but we contracted it and it came into our home and my husband was the first to become positive. And my son who is 10 years old and later on it was myself a week after. And at that time my husband had been flown out. He was intubated and he was in an induced coma for over a week."

"We had regular visits to the emergency medical services in Kayenta who are mostly friends and family of mine because we are a part of the community. And over the time I do know that they run very low on support. They were getting sick themselves. And so when Team Rubicon came in, it showed quite a bit of relief for the community to have the added support and to see the volunteers in the greyshirts. And also to know that they were coming with a wealth of information, a wealth of training and experience and it was quite a welcoming and blessing lift for the community to get that support from Team Rubicon. They have been a part of our family checking on us."

"We have had messages in Navajo and using the language to convey to the elders and those in places where their primary household languages is Navajo or Dine language."

"I believe many of them are feeling that the overwhelming need for support with communities. Especially when it hits hard with families. And in my case, we didn't know what our family was going to be facing within the days as we were becoming positive because both my husband and I ended up in the hospital, my children were at home and they became the head of the household overnight.

Talk back

Aliyah Chavez is our reporting covering the election and she gives us an update on the recent primary and developments in the Joe Biden campaign.  

"There are four Native candidates running for office in Wyoming which, fun fact was the first state that allowed women to vote, and, get this, all four Native candidates in Wyoming are women. Most notably we have Lynette Grey Bull who is vice president of the Global Indigenous Council. She is running for a U.S. House seat as a Democrat. Currently, Grey Bull is going up against two other Democrats who are seeking the party's nomination."

"This is a race I'm going to be diligently watching on August 18th, because if she makes it all the way to Congress, Grey Bull will be the first Native person to represent Wyoming in Congress ever."

"The other three candidates who are running for office in Wyoming are for the state legislature. We have Affie Ellis, who's a Republican running for reelection and her state senate seat. And in the Wyoming state house, we have Andi Clifford, a Democrat who is also seeking a reelection bid in that same district, however, we have a newcomer named Valaira Whitemen, a Republican who is looking to fill the shoes of Clifford. So we have a Native candidate who could potentially unseat an incumbent Native state representative, which is something that doesn't happen too often."

"The other part of that state house race that's exciting is that in 2018 the race was decided by just 58 votes. And in the election cycle before that it was decided by just 67 votes. So the 33rd district in Wyoming has a history of really close races. So that's gonna be a district that we're watching very closely on August 18th."

"The other thing to note, of the two women who are going head to head Andi Clifford and Valaira Whiteman they have actually known each other since high school. And so they are, about the same age and they're just running on different tickets. So that's really exciting."

"Clara Pratt, who's Navajo, was hired in mid-July as the Biden campaign's National Tribal Engagement Director. We weren't aware of a major position in Indian country on this campaign before, so really Pratt's hiring is the first major Native hiring in this election cycle."

"A little bit more about Pratt, she's the CEO of strong strategies, which is a multidisciplinary firm that offers technical and facility support to companies. And she also formerly served as the Chief of Staff for Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye. In 2019, she was named a Top 50 entrepreneur by the Native Business Magazine."

"She actually started on this campaign as a volunteer to help shape policy in Indian country."

"There's a number of primaries happening in August that we have many Native candidates who will be participating in, there are actually eight native candidates running for Congress who have primaries in August. It's going to start off on August 4th in Kansas, where Sharice Davids is going to be running for reelection."

Also in the newscast, Jourdan Bennett-Begaye has the latest numbers of positive COVID-19 tests in Indian Country.

The anchor and executive producer of the newscast is Patty Talahongva.

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