Navajo Nation: Empowering youth leaders
Posted August 2020
Partners in Health, and Community Outreach and Patient Empowerment, or COPE, have partnered with health care teams and community advocates in the Navajo Nation to develop a Youth Leadership program to address structural barriers to good health.
The Navajo Nation has suffered devastating impacts from COVID-19. Over 10,000 cases have been diagnosed on Navajo Nation lands as of September 2020, and the rate of infection there has been the highest in the United States. The legacies of genocide, structural racism, and forced migration have driven health inequities, including disproportionately high rates of obesity, diabetes, hypertension, and lung disease — all of which contribute to increased vulnerability to COVID-19.
Partners In Health, and Community Outreach and Patient Empowerment, or COPE, have been working tirelessly for the last decade to bring more medical resources to the community. COPE’s strong, long-term partnerships make it uniquely well positioned to contribute to both the immediate and long-term responses to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Since 2009, PIH and COPE have partnered with health care teams and with the Community Health Representative Program of the Navajo Nation to develop programs that address structural barriers to good health, respond to the burden of disease, and bridge systemic health care gaps.
The Youth Leadership Program promotes wellness through writing workshops, mixed media, learning from intergenerational dialogue, and community-service projects. These stories below follow two Youth Leaders in the program before the pandemic. Kyle White is working to restore healthy food systems, and to bring art therapy to Navajo youth. Dewight Leupp runs sensory workshops to better understand the lives of those with disabilities. These youth and their families have struggled through the COVID-19 crisis with their community, but we are reminded of the hope to persevere through this generation.
My creative works have taken me on a journey to document what has been happening in my community in relation to food, climate, health disparities, COVID-19 impacts, identity, and much more. My series is still in process and I cannot wait to launch it in the near future.
For me, personally, to be involved with an organization like COPE makes me feel very empowered, and also very lucky.
Photography by Barbara Kinney/Emerson Collective
Film directed by Christopher Nataanii Ceglieski, a member of the Navajo Nation