U Law researcher aids in Navajo Nation’s fight against COVID-19

Like thousands of families whose members are healthcare workers, Heather Tanana worries about the safety of her father, a physician working on the front-lines of COVID-19 in southern Utah’s Monument Valley.

“I am Diné (Navajo) of the Kinyaa’áanii (Towering House) clan. It’s been heartbreaking to see the sharp rise of COVID-19 cases on the Navajo Nation reservation (it has the third highest infection rate in the U.S.),” said Tanana.  “My father is directly assisting our tribal community on the front-line. He is at risk himself for getting COVID-19. But when I asked him why he is willing to take the risk, he humbly replied, ‘It’s not because I’m Superman or the most knowledgeable. It’s just because I care.’”

Like her father, Tanana cares deeply about helping her hometown and community. It’s one reason why she sought opportunities to organize relief efforts for those impacted by the coronavirus in the Navajo Nation, which had recorded an astounding 103 deaths as a result of the pandemic as of late Monday.

Tanana, a research associate at the University of Utah S.J. Quinney College of Law Wallace Stegner Center for Land, Resources and the Environment, collaborated with other local partners to launch Utah Tribal COVID-19 Relief, or UTCR.

UTCR is a unified effort by several partners across the state to provide immediate relief to Utah’s 8 federally recognized tribes during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Tribal communities face several challenges that make it difficult to combat COVID-19, such as a shortage of medical providers and food and water insecurity. As a result, Native Americans have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19,” said Tanana.

To assist tribal communities, UTCR is collecting item and monetary donations through May 15.  (Monetary donations will continue online through the end of the month).

Tanana, a 2010 alumna of the S.J. Quinney College of Law, founded the Indian Law section of the Utah State Bar Association in 2016 . She currently chairs the Indian Child Welfare Act Committee for the organization in addition to research and mentoring efforts at the U.

Her passion for Indian Law extends through her research at the law school, which is focused in part on building tribal capacity. Issues arising with the current pandemic ties into subjects that Tanana has previously studied.

“While many tribes are exercising their sovereignty to control the spread of COVID-19 through curfew and other social distancing orders, they are also facing unique challenges stemming from past federal policies and mistreatment. It is hard to take the appropriate precautions against COVID-19 when your water source is contaminated and there are limited resources available,” said Tanana. Relating back to her current efforts to bring aid to the Navajo Nation, she added: “UTCR grew out of the ICWA Committee of the Indian Law Section, but these issues are very important to me both on a personal and professional level.”

She said she is hopeful Utahns will rally to help neighbors in need.

The following materials are being collected for the Navajo Nation:

  • Disposable masks and cloth/fabric masks
  • Cleaning supplies, including disinfectant wipes and spray
  • Liquid hand soap and hand sanitizer
  • Toiletries
  • Thermometers
  • Paper products (paper towels, toilet paper, and tissue)
  • Non-perishable food
  • Bottled water
  • Baby necessities, including formula, diapers, and wipes
  • Children’s items (educational materials and learning games)

To arrange drop-off/pick-up of items, please contact Cliff Parkinson or Beth Parker at tribalcovid@learlaw.com. For more information on monetary donations please visit: http://indianlaw.utahbar.org/covid-19-tribal-relief-fund.html or contact Heather Tanana at tananah@law.utah.edu.