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Navajo Nation has lost more to coronavirus than 13 states
03:54 - Source: CNN
CNN  — 

While the hard-hit Navajo Nation was waiting for federal coronavirus relief funds, a group of celebrities drew attention to the tribe’s plight.

Jonathan Nez, president of the Navajo Nation, told CNN that the tribe finally received its relief funds on Wednesday, and he credited celebrities who used their voice to help.

“It’s very important for me to highlight the contributions of these movie stars and these partners and friends of the Navajo Nation in terms of getting food supplies and many other things to the Navajo people,” he said.

Stars like Mark Ruffalo, Paul Rudd, Mark Hamill and Ellen DeGeneres have appeared in public service announcements and teleconferences on behalf of Protect the Sacred - a “grassroots initiative to educate and empower Navajo youth and young people,” the group’s website says.

Mark Ruffalo, in a video for Protect the Sacred.

Nez said he met with Sean Penn on Friday, who has partnered with Johns Hopkins to help bring more test kits to the Navajo Nation.

“We’ve had to deal with the slowness of the federal government in terms of giving relief to the Navajo,” Nez said, and explained he’s had to rely on movie stars to draw attention to his tribe “because of the inaction of the federal government.”

A spokesperson for the Treasury Department told CNN the delay in funds was because it did not initially receive information from all eligible tribes, received incomplete information or multiple applications from other tribes, and received applications from entities that, upon review, were found not to be eligible.

A spokesperson for the Department of the Interior told CNN it provided assets to the Navajo Nation, deploying two command vehicles, two support trailers, two satellite communication trailers and two decontamination trailers to different areas of the Navajo reservation.

The Navajo Nation finally received its CARES Act payment – $600 million – on Wednesday, Nez told CNN.

The CARES Act, signed into law on March 27, earmarked $8 billion to be split among Native American tribes.

The Navajo Nation plans to use the money to purchase “needed equipment” for first responders, Nez said.

But he is also hoping to use some of the funds to prepare for the next pandemic. Nez cited a lack of running water and homes on the reservation as being especially problematic, particularly from a public health perspective.

“We need to get a lot more infrastructure throughout the Navajo Nation,” Nez said. “This is this a small amount of dollars that can help improve the quality of life and help us prepare for another pandemic in the future.”

The Navajo Nation has had 2,559 positive cases of Covid-19 and 79 deaths from the disease, Nez told CNN. The tribe has also extended its state of emergency declaration and closed government offices until May 17.