Indigenous Peoples and Human Rights

September 17, 2020

The Good Hearts Deliver: Lakota, Navajo and Hopi compassionate relief in times of pandemic


Navajo and Hopi Families COVID-19 Relief
"One of our amazing team leaders, Hector Ray, transporting a food distribution kit from Chinle, Az to Jeddito." -- Cassandra Begay

The Good Hearts Deliver: Compassionate relief is inspiring as Lakota, Navajo and Hopi grow crops, cook gourmet meals, fill water tanks, and deliver to elderly, families in need and fellow Natives in quarantine. Good heart volunteers ridging the gap in Arizona, New Mexico, South Dakota and Minnesota.

Meals for Relatives COVID-19 Rapid City Community Response -- Lakotas cook gourmet for Natives in quarantine in Rapid City

Photo by Cynthia Robertson

In Rapid City, South Dakota Lakota volunteers are cooking and delivering wholesome meals
and supplies to those in quarantine.
Donate to Meals for Relatives COVID-19 Rapid City Community Response

By Rebecca Kidder

(Above) "Cooking for relatives. Pan bread and soups for a beautiful fall day. Chicken carrots mushrooms wild and brown rice soup and for some smoked elk and deer and wild rice w veggies soup. Thank you Tom Whillock for the deer and elk." -- Rebecca Kidder

Photo by Candi Brings Plenty, Lakota, Cooking
with family for relatives in Black Hills
Meals for Relatives COVID-19 Rapid City Community Response

Candi Brings Plenty, Lakota, said, "I was thinking tonight as we were cooking about how one of our Lakota virtues is WaUnśila and how in English it translates to compassion. But it means so much more than that in Lakota. Our language does not translate as a linear word like English does, and our Lakota words have such an enormous comprehension of the actual meaning. I often say or hashtag “Lead with WaUnśila”...and that has a very different interpretation for each of us who understands what that means. To me, it means to do what is in my hands to take action to help alleviate the hardship of those most impacted around me, with whole-hearted intention to send love forward in a way that it is felt by the recipient and even those that the recipient loves too. Because right now, we all need extra loves, especially since we can’t freely hug or embrace each other, and our heartaches, stress and loneliness surfaces in our bodies and in our wellbeing, and we feel it, but sometimes just don’t know it. We have Indigenous single-parent families and Indigenous families impacted by COVID where the grandparents are raising their grandchildren, and we have houseless relatives sleeping down by the creek who are being attacked and harassed by the police department...and even murdered and pushed into the creek. When the news reports a body found in Rapid Creek, it's always an Indigenous body found in our creek. And our city is named after this creek. I am grateful that we as a community are organizing and taking care of our Oyaté, our relatives who are NOT getting resources from community programs, CARES Act funds or from their tribes...we are relatives of the Black Hills leading with WaUnśila. I want to send a shout out to our relatives who came down from the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe who fed our relatives yesterday and today, our local AIM chapter for stepping up, to the Lakota Veterans & volunteers who are patrolling overnight and to the grassroots native orgs who are leading the wayTo those of you who are interested in cooking, driving or donating to helping feed the Covid impacted relatives in the Black Hills, please contact Natalie Stites Means."

 Hopi Tutskwa Permaculture Institute

Hopi Tutskwa Permaculture Institute
"Hopi Tutskwa Permaculture Institute is a non-profit fueled by passionate people. We are a community-based organization, initiating hands-on learning projects that support Hopi youth and community to develop skills and practical experience needed to promote a more ecological and healthy Hopi community."

Hopi Tutskwa Permaculture Institute
Hopi Tutskwa Permaculture Institute

Hopi Tutskwa Permaculture Institute

Hopi Tutskwa Permaculture Institute

Navajo Mercury Bitsue on the Road Again with Relief

Navajo Mercury Bitsuie, family and friends are delivering food, water
and supplies to fellow Navajos.

'Good morning you all! We were able to get more food and supplies yesterday in Flagstaff. We were able to deliver for 33 families in the Houck and New Land area last night and getting ready to deliver the rest of today in Lupton, Allentown and Pine Springs today. Big thanks from my L'eau Est La Vie family and a big thanks for all your support! Stay safe and stay strong my relatives. Have a wonderful day !' -- Mercury Bitsuie

Mercury Bitsuie and team

Navajo Bitahnii Wilson filling the water tanks of Navajo and Hopi in desperate need

By Bitahnii Wilson, Dine'

Bitahnii Wilson, family and friends have been desperately needed water, food and supplies to fellow Navajos. "Today we're still going out and delivering ke'h care boxes and delivering water to those in need. We also got another shipment of donated food from Albuquerque food bank in our new flat bed trailer." -- Bitahnii Wilson

In Minnesota, Navajo Chef Brian Yazzie and team are cooking and delivering gourmet meals for elderly and those in need

Chef Brian Yazzie and team, Gatherings Cafe, Twin Cities, Minneapolis
'Today, we served (traditionally hunted) Venison w/ Cornmeal Gravy, Stewed Potatoes. Cucumber & Tomato. Salad.' #FeedingOurElders #FeedingUnshelteredRelatives #TwinCities #Minnesota @wckitchen #ChefsForAmerica — at Minneapolis American Indian Center.


"We have extended #FeedingOurElders project and have started feeding our Indigenous Unsheltered relatives at The Wall Encampment. As a community, we have to take care of our own. Especially, those who are Indigenous to the land we reside on."  -Yazzie The Chef

McKinley Mutual Aid based in Gallup, New Mexico, serving elders and families in eastern Navajoland and Zuni Pueblo

McKinley Mutual Aid
Serving Gallup, N.M., eastern Navajo Nation and Zuni Pueblo
"We’ve had some amazing volunteers join us again from Strong Families, ATD 4th World, Strengthening Nations, and Indigenous Lifeways. We’re so thankful for Glenn’s Bakery and Shamrock for their help procuring food on our behalf. Thank you again."

Kinlani Mutual Aid in Flagstaff, Arizona, working hard to provide for Natives in the region, unsheltered in Flagstaff and Dine' Healers
Kinlani Mutual Aid, Flagstaff, Arizona
Photos courtesy Shannonlynn Chester
Kinlani Mutual Aid receives donations, sanitizes and packages food and supplies for
Navajo and Hopi Families COVID-19 Relief, provides meals and supplies
to unsheltered relatives in Flagstaff, and provides food and supplies to Dine' healers.

By air and by land -- Navajo and Hopi Families COVID-19 Relief purchasing and delivering wholesome groceries, water and supplies on the Navajo Nation and Hopi Nation

By DreDay Hoshnic
Navajo and Hopi Families COVID-19 Relief and Project Dennehotso Strong

"Tired and exhausted, another successful distribution. With the help of Navajo and Hopi Relief, Project Dennehotso Strong served 148 residents Friday and Saturday," DreDay Hoshnic said of the cleaning, sanitizing, bagging, boxing, distributing and delivering, which took several days. "Thank you to everyone that helped, please stay safe, wash ur hands and wear a mask. A big thanks to Elder Roger Kunzler who helped us with three distribution and trash pick up." 

By DreDay Hoshnic
Navajo and Hopi Families COVID-19 Relief and Project Dennehotso Strong

By DreDay Hoshnic
Navajo and Hopi Families COVID-19 Relief and Project Dennehotso Strong

Air Bridge Program delivers thousands of pounds of direct relief to Navajo and Hopi communities to protect them from the spread of COVID-19

By Navajo Hopi Families COVID-19 Relief

TÓ NANEESDIZÍ, DINÉTAH, (TUBA CITY, NAVAJO NATION - September 9, 2020) The Navajo and Hopi Air Bridge Program successfully concluded its 7-week program in late August with the delivery of 48,193 pounds of direct relief via 24 flights to remote Navajo and Hopi communities. The Air Bridge Program was an unprecedented humanitarian partnership between Air Serv International, ISTAT Foundation, Westwind Air Services, and the Navajo & Hopi Families COVID-19 Relief Fund. The Navajo and Hopi Families COVID-19 Relief Fund is an initiative of Yee Ha’oolníidoo (translates into “May the Navajo People Have Fortitude”).

Air Serv International, which operates humanitarian programs overseas, partnered with Westwind and the Navajo & Hopi Families Relief Fund to establish a supply chain that delivered water, PPE, hand sanitizer, and basic living essentials to Navajo Mountain (UT), Chinle (AZ), Kayenta (AZ), Shiprock (NM), Montezuma Creek (UT), Monument Valley (UT), Page (AZ), Polacca (AZ), Crownpoint (NM), Tuba City (AZ), Farmington (NM), Upper Fruitland (NM), and Hogback (NM). The Air Bridge Program, funded by the ISTAT Foundation, sought to reduce the spread of COVID-19 within the two tribal communities by delivering cargo that was distributed via contactless distribution.
“Thank you to the ISTAT Foundation, Air Serv International, Westwind Air service, and Navajo & Hopi Families COVID-19 Relief Fund volunteers and staff for pulling off this monumental effort to help protect and save our Navajo and Hopi relatives. The Air Bridge Program came at a critical time when COVID cases in surrounding states were spiking. Providing this relief, and an alternative to shopping off-reservation for essential items, was crucial to helping reduce the number of COVID cases in our communities,” said Yee Ha’oolníidoo Deputy Director, Cassandra Begay, who coordinated the effort for the Relief Fund.
The Navajo Nation has one of the highest case rates of COVID-19 in the United States, but has shown recent signs of success in flattening the curve. According to ABC News, part of the decline in confirmed cases has been attributed to stay-home orders and implementation of curfews, which while reducing transmission, has also limited windows during which residents can travel to source food, water, cleaning products, and daily necessities. The Air Bridge Program, operational since July 8th, transported these items as well as critical supplies such as hand washing stations to help Navajo and Hopi families, elders, and immunocompromised fight COVID-19 while remaining at home.
“The Air Bridge flights were exciting to see as deliveries were made throughout the Navajo Nation. This has never been done where essentials were delivered to the most remote areas to be delivered to families who were most in need. I will treasure the smiles of individuals who received supplies that they needed! Thank you!” said Delores Greyeyes, Yee Ha’oolníidoo Board Member and Volunteer Distribution Coordinator.
Cargo sourced from all over the country was collected by Air Serv staff at the Air Bridge Program’s operations center in Phoenix before being flown to various drop points. Upon landing, the cargo was then unloaded from the aircraft by volunteers from the Navajo & Hopi Families Relief Fund, who then transported it to distribution centers where it was sanitized and packed into kinship care packages. The care packages were then distributed to elders, immunocompromised, and struggling families. The majority of transported cargo came from private donations and corporate sponsors. The Air Bridge Program concluded on August 20, 2020.
“The Air Bridge Program was an innovative and exciting way to ensure our people received the items they needed in a timely manner, and a reminder of the good we can bring into our communities,” said Shandiin Herrera, Yee Ha’oolníidoo Board Member and Volunteer Distribution Coordinator.
The Navajo & Hopi Families COVID-19 Relief Fund is currently seeking additional funding to continue an extension of the Program through the winter months. Please email if you are interested in helping fund this project. For more information about the Relief Fund and what you can do to support its work, please visit

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