District 5420 Native American Initiative
Throughout most of 2020, the adverse effects of the coronavirus have been felt around the world and it has disproportionately infected under-resourced and often neglected population subgroups. There is no more striking example of this disparate impact than the toll on the Navajo Nation. Leaders within Rotary District 5420 in Utah determined in the 2020-21 year, a major focus for Rotarians would be to support the Navajo community in Utah.
During a recent zoom meeting of leaders in Rotary District 5420, Assistant Governor (AG) Joe Kingsley from Moab shared the grim reality faced by many in the Navajo Nation: although the Navajo people live in a vast, but sparsely-populated reservation, many tribal families live in multi-generational groups in the same home making it easy for the COVID virus to spread rapidly. In addition, the leaders and health officials of the Navajo Nation instituted a quarantine prohibiting any of the tribal members from leaving this environment.
Kingsley’s request to the Rotary to support the Navajo Nation during these times paralleled the interest of Rotary District 5420 Governor Linda Sappington to get Utah Rotary involved with Native American tribes in Utah. She wanted to address their immediate needs but also utilize Rotary’s programs to help with their daily struggles, so she took action.
Sappington asked former Bountiful AG Paul Summers to survey other Rotaries around the state to gauge interest and coordinate efforts. As a result, the Rotary District 5420 Native American Initiative was created, and Summers was appointed by Governor Sappington to lead the program. The decision to support the Navajo Nation was an enthusiastic “yes” – representatives from ten Clubs across the state volunteered to serve on the Committee to support the Initiative.
Members of Rotary District 5420’s Native American Initiative Committee and their Clubs include: John May-Bountiful, Lisa Carr-Blanding, Paul Monroe-Cedar City, Nadene Barish and Alicia Maldonado-Dixie Sunrise, Devin Thorpe-Utah eClub, Debbie Lauret- Mount Timpanogos, Joe Kingsley-Moab, Chuck Baker-Sugarhouse, Stuart Richardson-West Jordan, and Kelly Crane – Richfield.
In addition to the Committee, Governor Sappington and Summers are being assisted by several individuals with broad understanding and long-standing relationships with the Native American tribes in Utah: Todd Larkin, Area Seventy for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints with responsibility for Native American Relations; Steve Studdert, Religious and Government Relations; Stan Benally, representing the United Indigenous Natives of Southern Utah; Rebecca Benally, former San Juan County Commissioner and advocate for the Utah portion of the Navajo Nation; and Larry Echo Hawk, currently serving as Special Counsel for Indian Affairs to the Utah Governor and Attorney General. Each of these individuals has been helpful in guiding the program.
Some highlights of relief supplies (COVID) delivered, and other activities include:
The first four loads of relief supplies consisting of thousands of pounds of food, water and cleaning goods were delivered by Devin Thorpe and volunteers, Stuart and Sharon Richardson, (West Jordan Rotary) and Paul Summers (Bountiful RC) to Montezuma Creek.
- Several thousand pounds of food and cleaning supplies were delivered to the Ute Mountain Utes at White Mesa, Utah by Stuart and Sharon Richardson and Paul and Helen Summers.
- The next load of relief supplies was delivered to the Red Mesa area of the Navajo Reservation by Debbie Lauret from the Mount Timpanogos Club. At the same time Paul and Helen Summers delivered a load of food and cleaning supplies to the Halchita community.
- More than 15,000 pounds of supplies were delivered to the Hopi Tribe in Northern Arizona early in the discovery of COVID 19. PDG Shaun Michel headed up the project which involved a call out to his neighbors and friends. Later, he purchased cots and tents and delivered these much-needed supplies to the Hopis to help with isolating COVID patients.
- Twelve 275-gallon water tanks for the remote areas of the Navajo Nation will be delivered on October 12 to Blanding. Acquiring the tanks was a collaborative effort with eight clubs paying for six of them and the Christian Center of Park City covering the cost of the other six.
- Paul Monroe, current president of the Rotary Club of Cedar City delivered a load of food and cleaning supplies to the Oljato community located near Monument Valley, UT.
- Nadene Barish contacted the Shivwits leaders, and introduced Rotary and how Rotary would like to work with them. As with other tribes, this is a “work in progress.”
- Firewood Project: The hurricane-force windstorm on September 8, 2020 in Weber, Davis and Salt Lake counties resulted in thousands of downed trees along with considerable damage to homes and other property. This turned out to be a wonderful opportunity to help the tribes in Utah with much-needed firewood and became a project of mammoth proportions. The wood was cut, piled, and loaded by volunteers and led by leaders from over 70 Stakes of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. More than 70 large semi-truckloads of firewood went to Blanding, four loads to the Goshutes, and two loads to the Shoshones. All costs related to transport of this valuable resource were donated by various trucking companies; construction companies and cities provided the loaders. An incredible effort by so many generous individuals and Rotary was acknowledged for its contribution.
- Sappington and Summers have met with several key leaders in the Native community including Larry Echo Hawk who has a long resume in politics and religion. He was Lt. Governor in Idaho, Assistant Secretary of Interior for the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and a General Authority Seventy for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (now emeritus). He is currently serving as a special assistant to the Utah Attorney General for Indian Affairs. Sappington and Summers gained great insight from Echo Hawk who agreed to work with Rotary when needed and accepted the invitation to speak at the District Conference.
- Sappington and Summers also met on zoom with Dustin Jansen, Director of Indian Affairs for the State of Utah. Jansen is a Navajo and an attorney who teaches Indian law at Utah Valley University. It was a good discussion and the reception from Jansen and two of his staff members was positive helping to strengthen relationships with the Navajo Nation.