Published on Mar 30, 2021

Video Transcript

[MUSIC PLAYING] JOHN WHYTE: Welcome, everyone. I'm Dr. John Whyte, Chief Medical Officer at WebMD. And you're watching Coronavirus in Context. For the last few months, we've been talking about the impact of coronavirus on vulnerable populations. But honestly, one population that we've overlooked are tribal populations.

So today, I want to spend some time talking about that. And I've asked one of the experts to join me, Amy Denet Deal. Amy, thanks for taking time today.

AMY DENET DEAL: So nice to be here. Thank you so much.

JOHN WHYTE: Now, I want to congratulate you. Congratulations are in order. You are a recipient of the WebMD Health Heroes Award with Dr. Fauci and a few others.

AMY DENET DEAL: I'm such a big fan. [LAUGHS]

JOHN WHYTE: Congrats-- so congratulations. Let's talk about the population that often we ignore, tribal populations. What has been the impact on this community?

AMY DENET DEAL: Well, obviously we've had a very challenging year in 2020 like everyone. And I think just because with our community, we're 175,000 people living on the Navajo Nation over 27,000 square miles. You have to look at some of the other things that actually impacted us, infrastructure issues, some areas not having electricity, some areas not having running water, very limited Wi-Fi.

So very early on in this pandemic, it just such a challenge compared to other more urban areas when the COVID first hit. It was just hard to get the information out, hard to know what was going on. So what we did see was a lot of our mutual aid organizations, matriarchs or relatives of our tribe really just stepping up and start doing some of that hard work of getting PPE out there.

JOHN WHYTE: You point out there was no PPE. There were challenges in washing hands. You sprung into action. Tell us your story. Your story was a successful fashion designer. And you took many of those skills to address this. And I have to first say prior to coming on a little while ago, Amy says to me, John, I'm just a mom. And you're not just a mom. Moms are great, but you've gone above that. Tell us your story, Amy, how you sprung into action?

AMY DENET DEAL: So I think when we talk about me being a mom, it's like that's how I really felt like really at the beginning of COVID was like a mama bear and what can we do to protect, what can we do to aid, how can we be of service? I have 35 years doing fashion design, and I know how to make things. I know how to get things from point A to point B.

Obviously, very early on in COVID, it was very challenging to get things from places that we needed to since there was such a limited amount. So I just really looked at my past, which was being an active wear designer and ask a couple of friends in the industry. Do they have fabric? We had amazing donations from Nike, from Outdoor Voices, from Patagonia where we actually got the fabric very quickly and worked with another indigenous designer, Bethany Yellowtail, who is living in Los Angeles. And the two of us just got together and started making masks.

I was really fortunate because when made the mask, we got the fabric. But then we had to pay the factory. Then another friend of mine, Jewel, who you might know is amazing singer.


AMY DENET DEAL: A dear friend of mine. And I was like, hey, dear, could you maybe help us out? We've got this idea to even produce more PPE. And she helped us produce Voices of Siihasin, which was one of our first events we did to raise funding.

JOHN WHYTE: Well, we all need friends like Jewel.


JOHN WHYTE: But you did more than that. You raised nearly $1 million.


JOHN WHYTE: You took your skills as a businesswoman and applied it to addressing this pandemic.

AMY DENET DEAL: Yeah. I think it's all about finding like-minded people. I think during that time, we all were looking for answers on how we could come together. Social media was amazing for me. We have such heartfelt followers that wanted to be part of doing something positive, and it was really just telling those stories of the needs. We started off doing PPE. We moved into medical PPE. We shifted into food and security. We did a big program of delivering food and care boxes called Children of the [INAUDIBLE] project with World Central Kitchen and Jewel.

So as COVID moved, as the problems moved all around Navajo Nation, we also shifted and pivoted. And I go back to my fashion career. To actually be part of fashion means you have to move quick to different problems. You're constantly pivoting and trying to fix problems. So that was really a big part of the work was just following what COVID was doing over those months.

And so many wonderful relatives helping us, other mutual aid organizations on Navajo Nation as well as all of our followers on social media and Instagram.

JOHN WHYTE: But for a long time, the needs of these communities have been ignored. And you have raised awareness. There's a wonderful line from your profile in the magazine and online that says-- you wrote, I had decided that I wanted to commit the rest of my life to being of service. What made you decide to do that to give up everything that you had?

AMY DENET DEAL: I think my life has come in cycles. My first part of my life, I had a fashion career, a successful fashion career. I love doing that. And then the next stage was being a mom. I have a young daughter, Lily. She's 20 years old this year. And that was just such a beautiful experience for me of moving away from self and moving into being a caretaker.

And now at this final stage of being an empty nester and thinking like what's next for me.

JOHN WHYTE: I hope it's not the final stage. [LAUGHS]

AMY DENET DEAL: No. I feel like things come in three's and four's. I'm thinking this is going to be the one. But because I was adopted out at birth, I never got to grow up on Navajo Nation. And I never really got to be part of my culture when I was young. So it's really coming full circle to the end of taking everything I have learned in these life lessons through my career, through being a mother and then coming home. Really coming home and really connecting with community and thinking like how can I use these things I've learned my whole life and apply those to things that need to happen?

So it's the most joyful experience I think especially now that with all of us during COVID-19, we've had that time to reflect on what we're doing with our life, how we're spending our days, how we're spending our time. And to actually use that in service of others is one of the most joyful things you'll ever do in your life. With the team of doctors and medical people-- you guys know that. The healing aspect of interacting with other human being is why we're here. It's to be together and to be part of a community.

Yeah it's a beautiful, beautiful year.

JOHN WHYTE: Well, how can viewers learn more if they want to help out? We know pre-pandemic, there were challenges with health care and other aspects in tribal communities. So people want to help out. Where can they go to find out more information?

AMY DENET DEAL: Yeah. So we have it on our website. We do a lot of work in mutual aid. Right now, we're involved in building a skate park to give kids something to do and keep them healthy this fall. But there's so many places you can-- go to our website and learn about mutual aid organizations still in action on Navajo Nation.

We have our friend Lauren Anthony who's delivering firewood to elders. [INAUDIBLE] a great organization. Another friend Ken Smith is still delivering aid up in the northern agency.

JOHN WHYTE: You put all your friends to work. [LAUGHING]

AMY DENET DEAL: Well, we do it together. In our culture, it's a kinship we have as relatives and relatives helping other relatives. And there's a long, hard road ahead of us. We all know that. We've got through the worst part of COVID. Knock on wood we hope so. But there's a long, hard road of recovery for everyone of working through these mental issues and all of the after effects of a pandemic.

We're not stopping. We're going to continue to do this work. We've refocused to do a lot of work with the kids just because that's an area for me that brings me a lot of joy to keep their body strong, to keep their mind strong, and to really help heal a lot of these feelings they've gone through during the pandemic.

JOHN WHYTE: I have no doubt that you will make an impact. Amy Denet Deal, congratulations again on this award and even more so for all you're doing in your community and around the world. Thank you for your service.

AMY DENET DEAL: Thank you so much. Thank you so much for this honor. I share it with all of the hundreds of thousands of followers that helped this crowdfund this year that were part of everything that happened. I couldn't have done it without all the like-minded kind people on this planet. So I share that with them. So thank you so much.

JOHN WHYTE: And thank you for watching.