The Arizona National Guard was required to help distribute a huge donation drive from the Irish community in Phoenix for the Navajo Native American tribe badly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Irish Cultural Center in Phoenix organized donations drives over the last two weekends and the Irish community in Arizona has answered the call, donating over $30,000 worth of supplies. The Irish community donated more than 5,000 items as part of the drive.
Clare native Jason Ryan, who helped to organize the drive, said that the collection became so big that the Arizona National Guard sent two 53-foot trucks and 22 soldiers to help distribute the huge donation of food, water, medical supplies, and other essential products.
Ryan's sister-in-law, Doreen McPaul, is the Attorney General for the Navajo Nation and helped to get the National Guard on board.
"Initially, we had a 15-foot U-Haul to pick up stuff. On the first day, everything fit inside. On the second day, it doubled," he said.
"And then the last two days, it just got phenomenal. Everything grew and definitely wouldn't fit in a 15-foot U-Haul.
So we took a picture and sent it to the Arizona National Guard and they brought in two 53-foot lorries and filled both of them. They brought in 22 soldiers to come and help us. It was phenomenal."
The Clare native said that the Irish response to the Navajo crisis has been "fantastic."
He said that Irish people are happy to drop everything to provide basic supplies to the Navajo Nation and that they turned up in their droves over the last two weekends to donate whatever supplies they could bring with them.
"Everyone that turned up had a car full of supplies - whether it's water, paper towels. They just turned up with everything."
Ryan, whose wife Denise grew up in the Navajo region, has been among the most prominent supporters of the Navajo plight, which has the highest rate of infection in the United States.
As of Friday night, there have been more than 5,000 cases of the coronavirus and 231 deaths among the Navajo Nation's 173,000 residents and Ryan said that exposure to the virus was heightened because of the way the Navajo people live.
The Navajo people are similar to Irish people, according to Ryan, and often live close to their paternal home.
He said that there could be three generations living under one roof and that house calls are frequent due to a lack of internet and poor cell phone service in the Navajo region.
"They go check on each other. With no cell service and a lack of broadband, you won't know unless you physically go and check on them. That just heightens the exposure.
He said that the COVID-19 crisis in the Navajo region has been exacerbated by the lack of basic supplies on the reservation - supplies that most people would take for granted.
"They don't have resources. Some don't have running water, some don't have electricity. A lot of them don't have internet or cell service.
"They have to physically haul water - so that's basically taking a 50-gallon drum to the watering station and filling it up. There are 1,000 of those stations on the Navajo reservation and about 200 don't work because they've been exposed to uranium.
"The water distribution center had to be shut down because someone tested positive for COVID-19."
Ryan said that it is these basic supplies that are most important to the Navajo Nation at present. People all over the world have donated millions of dollars to help the Native American tribe, but he said how that money is used is crucial.
"Money is great, but they need supplies," he said.
They need basic supplies. They need water. They need feminine products, diapers, paper towels."
The priority items donated to @azirishcenter last w/d were flew to Window Rock(The Capital of the Navajo Nation) and met by Attorney General Doreen McPaul. The items included 2,500 pieces of PPE and much needed feminine products. pic.twitter.com/f8eRieEESX— jason ryan (@jasonryan31) May 20, 2020
Ryan said that the Navajo people feel forgotten by the US Federal Government and his wife Denise said that federal aid was slow to arrive.
"There's such a long history of how Indian people have been treated by the federal government. It took a long time to get any sort of response from the government. Even when they did appropriate some money to go to Indian tribes, it was very slow to come in," she said.
She said that money apportioned to the Navajo Nation under the CARES Act was extremely specific in how it could be used and that public donations through collection drives were more effectively meeting the tribe's needs.
She said that public collections were providing the tribe with large volumes of face masks, food and water supplies, and other medical supplies.
"The public drives are meeting the immediate needs of the people, especially for residents out there who can't get to a grocery store because of the curfew. The drives are so important to get them the things they need quickly.
"The public outpouring of support has been pretty much a life-saver."
Both Ryan and his wife are encouraging anyone wishing to donate to do so through the official Navajo Nation GoFundMe.
A number of unofficial GoFundMes have been set up to raise funds for the tribe, but the official GoFundMe is operated by the Navajo Government. Ryan says that they will be able to make important decisions on how to spend the money since they are aware of what the community needs and have forged connections with local businesses.
Irish people have donating vast amounts of money to the Navajo cause as a means of saying thank you for a 173-year-old favor when the Choctaw Nation donated $170 ($5,000) to Irish Famine relief in 1847. The Native American tribe had just suffered through the Trail of Tears and that selfless act of compassion and generosity has prompted a huge number of people to support the Navajo Nation in their hour of need.
This is Irish Famine Memorial weekend and in honor of that occasion the Irish community of Phoenix have been doing a donation drive for the Navajo Nation who are among the worst affected by covid-19. It has been a tremendous success- volunteers at the Irish Famine Memorial in AZ pic.twitter.com/aT9RB2BCXD— jason ryan (@jasonryan31) May 17, 2020