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Protecting Navajo Elders From COVID-19: A Personal Account

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The Navajo Times
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The Navajo Nation, tonight, will implement a curfew as COVID-19 spreads across the vast reservation. With more than 100 known cases, President Jonathan Nez announced the curfew for the entire Navajo Nation from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. daily, effective today.

Delilah Begaye is from the Tuba City area and is part of a cleaning crew sanitizing buildings during the outbreak. She spoke with KNAU’s Gillian Ferris about growing concern for the well-being of Navajo elders.

Protecting Navajo Elders From COVID-19: A Personal Account

Gillian Ferris: Delilah, tell us what’s happening on the Navajo Nation from your perspective as far as how people are coping amid this pandemic and what the concerns are for the elders, in particular, on the Navajo Nation.

Delilah Begaye: With the whole outbreak and everything, it’s really scary. It gets me going because it’s where I grew up, and I really, really care about my elders, and that’s the main people that it’s effecting. With how fast this virus is spreading it’s really scary because they live in such a secluded area. Some of them aren’t aware of this virus. They don’t understand English. They speak fluent Navajo. They don’t have family to come and talk to them and tell them because the family wants to be safe and keep their distance from them because they know they won’t be able to get the help they need if they do come in contact with the elderly. They’re the most vulnerable right now. To know that this is going on in a community I was raised in, you know, it really hits home and it really hurts a lot. We don’t have the necessities that you do in a town: the emergency room’s just right there, you can call the fire department or police department and they can come. No. You can’t do that on the Rez. It’s just really hard to try to find the resources and the people to talk to get them to understand the Navajo. They do need help, too. The media doesn’t really cover that. They don’t really talk about that.  

GF:  You said there’s a strong law enforcement presence right now.

DB: Yeah.

GF: What is law enforcement telling people?

DB: Well, right now law enforcement is out on the reservation telling people they need to stay inside their houses, you know, ‘you guys need to be safe’. And they’re at the main highways of these roads that lead into the main reservation towns, and they’re stopping people and asking them, ‘What are you guys leaving for? You can only leave for emergency’. But other than that, they’re really urging everyone to stay inside. They’re urging everyone to turn around and go home and stay inside. On top of the emergency, we also need food. We also need water. We also need all of these things that we have to drive a distance to get to.

GF: And how are people attempting to get in touch with, and help, and provide supplies for the elderly, in particular?

DB: There’s certain people, charities, donations, church organizations, small town stores are coming together and making boxes for these elderlies. Mainly the elderlies because they can’t be out and about. They can’t be outside and going around and getting stuff. So, they just go to the houses and drop the boxes off for them. Some of them have family that will come out and get it for them and take it inside for them. And some of them – there was a grandson that sat outside the house just to make sure that nobody was coming in to the house to see their grandparents. Things like that. I’m thankful that these little stores and these little organizations are helping because it’s really hard for us to come together, especially when we can’t be together.

GF: How has that changed the way you’re doing ceremonies?

DB: Ceremonies right now, a lot of the family members are really urging the medicine men and women not to see people. But they can do it over the phone. It’s just really complicated, but they’re finding ways to work around it to where they’re still trying to help people. They want to help people, but at the same time they have to keep themselves safe. People just coming in and out of the houses…that’s probably something they don’t want to bring into their home because they have their family there.

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Gillian came to KNAU in 2001 as a freelance reporter. Her first story won an Arizona Associated Press Award. Since then, Gillian has won more than a dozen Edward R. Murrow Awards for feature reporting, writing, editing and documentary work. She served as KNAU’s local Morning Edition anchor for many years before becoming News Director and Managing editor in 2013. When she’s not working, Gillian likes to spend time in the natural world with her dog, Gertie. She is an avid hiker, skier, swimmer, and reader.