News Release

Protect the Sacred

Protect the Sacred, a grassroots initiative created in response to the COVID-19 crisis on the Navajo Nation, is presenting the Indigenous Class of 2020 Virtual Graduation Celebration with Urban Native Era. This livestream celebration on Tuesday, June 30th at 5 p.m. Pacific Time, 6 p.m. Mountain Time, and 8pm Eastern Time will feature Native American singers, dancers, elders and leaders — Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez and Representative Deb Haaland — as well as celebrity appearances from Ava DuVernay, Mark Ruffalo, Tessa Thompson, Zahn McClarnon, Sean Penn, Wilmer Valderrama, Paul Rudd, Dawn-Lyen Garnder, Chris Evans, Taika Waititi, Piper Perabo, Jewel, and Jordan Nolan.

Celebrating the class of 2020’s accomplishments amid adversity of COVID-19, this initiative aims to empower Indigenous youth as they enter the next chapter of their life. This star-studded event will encourage Indigenous young adults to shape their futures and invest in their communities by filling out the 2020 United States Census and registering to vote.

The virtual commencement can be accessed live here on June 30th, and on YouTube and Facebook afterward. Attendees are encouraged to RSVP with Protect the Sacred prior to the event but forgetting to do so does not restrict you from viewing the livestream, which will be made public for all to view. Native youth are encouraged to sign up for the Hero Challenge on Protect the Sacred’s website. 

Indigenous Class of 2020 virtual graduation flyer.

Indigenous Class of 2020 virtual graduation flyer.

The Navajo Nation is America’s largest, self-governing indigenous reservation with a population of over 250,000—including many youth and young adults. Many of these young adults are now or will soon be 18-years-old, so the Indigenous Class of 2020 Virtual Graduation Celebration will help them navigate civic duties. During a pivotal point in America’s history, Indigenous youth across the country have the power to preserve and grow their tribal nations by participating in democracy.

The new generations of Native youth represent the voice of change for Indigenous peoples — and protect and represent their communities amid the global COVID-19 crisis. The Navajo Nation is currently working towards recovering from a widespread bout of the novel coronavirus, while neighboring tribes, the Pueblo and Apache are now seeing the highest rates of COVID-19 per capita in the country.

As an extension of the virtual graduation celebration, Protect the Sacred invites Indigenous youth from across the country to join in the Indian Country Hero Challenge, a four-part challenge that encourages children and teens to stay home and connect with their Native cultures. Activities are designed for participating youth to learn more of their culture, stories and languages from their elders and share on social media.

“My colleagues, community, relatives, friends, and allies are incredibly proud of our Native youth across Indian Country for pushing through a difficult several months and sacrificing their big moment walking across the stage,” said Protect the Sacred Co-Founder and Director Allie Young. “They graciously accepted virtual celebrations with their families and friends in lieu of large celebrations to keep our people and elders safe. They are selfless and they are our future. They are more connected to the vast information and technology in the world, and combining that knowledge with the values, medicine ways, and cultures that root us in the land of who we are — the Original Peoples. They are coming up with new and inventive ways of revitalizing language and culture, and that gives us so much hope in these uncertain times. We’re excited to honor them with this virtual celebration to show our appreciation because they deserve it and should know that they are not the forgotten class. They are the brave, strong, resilient, Indigenous class of 2020, and they are seen!” 

Urban Native Era, a Native-owned company, is presenting this event alongside Protect the Sacred and has designed the official Indigenous Class of 2020 t-shirt.

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About Protect the Sacred

Protect the Sacred launched in response to the COVID-19 crisis on the Navajo Nation. The Navajo Nation is continuing to experience a rapid increase in the spread of the novel coronavirus on tribal lands in Arizona and New Mexico. The population living on the Navajo Nation is approximately 175,000, and as of Sunday, June 29, 2020, 7,469 people have tested positive for COVID-19 and 363 have died. Over 65% of the deaths are elders, 60 years old and older. As is the case globally, however, those are only the cases that have been recorded by healthcare facilities on the reservation. Many homes are overcrowded and lack basic necessities like running water and electricity, which continue to be some of the leading challenges for families in rural areas on Navajo, putting the population at a greater risk.