A few years ago, Amy Denet Deal (formerly Amy Yeung) was a highly sought-after fashion executive in Los Angeles. When her daughter, Lily, graduated from high school in 2018, Denet Deal left LA and moved to New Mexico to reintegrate with the Diné (Navajo nation), her birth mother’s tribe. Yeung, who was adopted, later changed her name to honor “the Diné matriarch that brought me into this world.”
“I had decided that I wanted to commit the rest of my life to being of service,” she says. “I’d done everything I wanted to do. I’d taken care of my child and she was ready to go off in the world. It was my time.”
Denet Deal was concerned about the lack of basic infrastructure she found. Nearly one-third of Navajo homes don’t have running water, and an estimated 15,000 lack electricity. Just 13 supermarkets service an area that stretches 27,000 square miles, and residents have to drive an average of 1 to 3 hours to get food.
COVID-19 has dealt a crushing blow to an already vulnerable population. “Do you know how hard COVID-19 has been for us when you can’t wash your hands and you can’t get WiFi, so you don’t know what’s going on?” Personal protective equipment (PPE) was nearly nonexistent in the early days of the pandemic.
Denet Deal realized she had the skills to fill a critical need. “I have run really large corporations in my lifetime. I know how to raise funds. I know how to make masks,” she says. She transitioned her upcycled clothing company, Orenda Tribe, to manufacturing face masks, and called in connections at companies like Patagonia and Outdoor Voices for fabric. To finance her efforts, Denet Deal solicited donations and held fundraisers. The Voices of Siihasin benefit concert, held in July 2020 with Grammy-winning singer/songwriter Jewel, raised $200,000 -- enough to fund 42,000 care boxes for the children of the Diné community and their families.
In 2020, Denet Deal and the group of female volunteers who make up her Dził Asdzáán (Mountain Woman) Command Center raised more than $835,000 and distributed more than 1 million PPE units and more than 1 million servings of food.
In the near-term, Denet Deal is focused on meeting her tribe’s needs through the pandemic, but she has bigger long-term goals. “I want to work on sustainable solutions for the future to deal with the problems we face -- food insecurity, lack of jobs, land issues, environmental genocide,” she says. “I’m incredibly committed, because this is the future of my tribe.”
WebMD Exclusive: Our 2021 Health Hero Gets Personal
Who is your hero?
They are our frontline workers, our relatives delivering food and firewood to our elders, and those caring for our communities during the COVID-19 pandemic.
If you could do anything to help others, what would you do?
I would love to start an Empowerment Program for Diné youth -- the future of our tribe.
What is your dream job?
The work that I have been doing has been my dream for a while and I am on my journey as the individual I have aspired to be.
What do you do to relax?
My daughter recently moved to New Mexico and I love to visit her. We usually cook Moroccan food and spend time with her cat.
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