The Relief Fund was established March 15, 2020 when Ethel Branch, the former Navajo Nation Attorney General, started a GoFundMe Campaign to raise money to purchase food for a few remote Navajo and Hopi families with elders, immunocompromised, or children. She was concerned that these high-risk families living in extreme food desert conditions on Navajo or Hopi (traveling an average of two hours to off-reservation grocery stores) would find nothing to purchase, have to search from store to store for essential items (and thus increase risk of exposure), and eventually leave empty-handed. She sought to provide these families with two-weeks' worth of food so they could safely self-quarantine and be protected from the initial onslaught of COVID-19.
The GoFundMe Campaign raised $5000 by the end of the day, and Ethel immediately reached out to a group of incredible Navajo and Hopi women leaders who she knew to have deep ties to their communities and a deep love for their people. She asked for their assistance in spreading relief resources to those most at risk and in need of assistance across the two nations. To date the team has raised over $18 million, was a top 5 fundraiser on the platform in 2020, and formed the Utah-based nonprofit of Yee Ha’ólníi Doo to manage funds and staff.
As of July 7, 2021 the team and some 1,300 Navajo and Hopi volunteers throughout the two nations have provided over $10 million in direct relief (food, water, and PPE) to roughly half a million Navajo and Hopi people in 106 of the 110 Chapters (county-like regions) on Navajo and in all 12 Hopi Villages.
In June the Relief Fund was recognized by the Arizona House and Senate for its work and received the Community Service and Leadership Award from the Diné Studies Conference. Branch was recognized as one of the 7 unsung heroes of the pandemic by Bill Gates, received a 2020 Giraffe Hero Commendation (awarded to people who stick their necks out for the common good), and was named Woman of the Year by the Phoenix Indian Center for her work with the Fund. “These accolades are a tribute to the tremendous collective work of our volunteers, staff, leadership and fellow community members,” Branch said.
Our vision is to empower our Navajo and Hopi people with the fortitude to overcome challenges through traditional principles of self-reliance and interrelatedness. Our mission is to build collective Navajo and Hopi power to exercise our inherent rights to self-determination by putting our cultural values and teachings into practice to rebuild and revitalize our communities.
Our goal is to make our communities pandemic proof and climate change resilient. We never want to be this vulnerable again. Thus we have reserved some unrestricted funding to invest in a stronger future for our communities in the areas of food security, entrepreneurship, youth leadership, and housing.
Our first initiative to advance these long term goals is the launch of Community Centers in August 2021 that will infuse remote and underdeveloped communities with resources that will give flight to the natural leadership and entrepreneurship in our communities, and serve as innovation hubs at the local level.
Video courtesy of Karney Hatch