SALT LAKE CITY — To help Indigenous people impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, an advocacy group is collecting seeds and sheep to help create a new food supply chain.
"It's all frontline community response work," said Alastair Bitsóí, the communications director for Utah Diné Bikéyah, which is partnering with a number of groups to provide help to people in and around the Navajo Nation.
"Our people are sheltering in place, following public health orders from the Navajo Nation, the counties, the states," he said in an interview Friday with FOX 13. "One solution we decided to come up with was to provide seeds to families who want to plant. Planting is integral to our culture."
The groups are collecting seeds that can grow in the Four Corners region and are sourced from Native seed keepers. Ultimately, the goal is to encourage self-sufficiency and less of a reliance on border towns during the pandemic. The group also hoped it could help with other health issues that Native people face, Bitsóí said.
"The stars, sun and clouds are yearning for our people to place seeds in the soil to rehydrate our relationship with Earth as we restore holistic health and balance during this challenging time," Cynthia Wilson, Utah Diné Bikéyah’s Traditional Foods Program Director, said in a statement. "We are sourcing drought resilient seeds adaptable to the Four Corners region to gift to Native families willing to establish self-sufficient food systems as cultural solutions to overcome this pandemic."
The Navajo Nation has been one of the most hard-hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. President Jonathan Nez has implemented strict curfews and lockdowns to help keep the virus from spreading. As of Thursday, the Navajo Department of Health had reported 2,757 cases of novel coronavirus and 88 deaths.
Utah Diné Bikéyah, which began as an advocacy group for the Bears Ears National Monument, has since been addressing other issues that impact indigenous people in the Four Corners region. Beyond seeds, the group is also collecting donations to purchase sheep.
"Later on this summer, we're going to start our effort to purchase those lambs for those families willing to raise them for their own self-sufficiency. Historically, we do have some shepherds and sheperdesses in our communities," Bitsóí said. "It's organic meat, basically."
People who wish to help are encouraged to donate money to Utah Diné Bikéyah for the purchase of seeds or sheep. The group also welcomes donations to help with water, personal protective equipment and other relief supplies.