Billy Ray Cyrus

Billy Ray Cyrus Donates 20K Masks to Native Community During IllumiNative Town Hall

Billy Ray Cyrus
Photo Credit: Tish Cyrus

Last week (4/30), IllumiNative, Taboo, NDN Collective and Indian Country Today co-hosted the Native Americans & Coronavirus Virtual Town Hall as part of IllumiNative’s #WarriorUp campaign. Centered around the impact of COVID-19 on Native communities and tribal governments, the town hall brought together Native leaders, legislators, influencers, and advocates to discuss how the pandemic has exacerbated disparities and inequalities affecting not only Native Americans but all communities of color, while showcasing the strength and resiliency of a unified community.

Panelists included Billy Ray Cyrus, Piper Perabo, Notah Begay III, Lt. Governor Peggy Flanagan, Congresswoman Debra Haaland, Congresswoman Sharice Davids, Monica Ramirez, Crystal Echo Hawk, President Nez of Navajo Nation, Abigail Echo-Hawk, Donald Warne, Dr. Dakotah Lane, Chief Sneed, Fawn Sharp, Dwayne Proctor, Nick Tilsen, Allie Young, Judith LeBlanc, and Jodi Archambault. 

“Our goal with this town hall is to give voice to people from 574 federally recognized Native tribes – sovereign nations – to speak to the public on key issues of public policy as it’s shaped.” said Mark Trahant, Editor of Indian Country Today, “So often these discussions leave out first Americans and we discover the impacts of these conversations only after the fact.” 

“There’s clearly a theme here and it’s the disproportionate impacts that COVID-19 has on not only Native peoples but also on communities of color,” said Crystal Echo Hawk, founder and CEO of IllumiNative. “When we look at this, it’s hundreds of years of systemic racism, chronic underfunding and discrimination at federal and state levels that have really created limited access to healthcare and other basic necessities.” 

This event comes at the heels of an unprecedented health and humanitarian crisis, with Native communities and communities of color disproportionately impacted by the pandemic due to lack of necessary funding and access to federal and state assistance. The discussion focused on the importance of communities of color standing together to fight against the injustices and inequalities they face, and what it will mean going forward to have more Native peoples in the rooms where decisions are being made. Panelists offered thoughts on the importance of elevating Native voices and concerns, addressing the chronic underfunding these communities face, and weighed in on Native-led solutions to combat the pandemic and decades of invisibility. 

“Alongside Congresswoman Deb Haaland, we’ve pushed really hard to get funding into the various relief packages and were able to get $8 billion into the Cares Act. Those funds have still not reached our tribal governments, which is completely unacceptable.” said Congresswoman Sharice Davids, “But we’re continuing to urge the Treasury Department to release those funds because this is literally the difference between life and death for many of our community members.”  

“We created the Community Resiliency and Recovery Work Group which is centuring people of color, Indigenous people, immigrants, and refugees in the decisions that we’re making,” said Lt. Governor Peggy Flanagan, “Because too often we talk about getting back to normal. Well normal wasn’t working for us. Unless we are centered in the recovery, we will go back to conditions that continue these inequities.” 

“I’m really happy that tribal leaders are speaking up and speaking out. We need to support what they’re doing in Indian Country to make sure that they have the resources they need to fight this pandemic,” said Congresswoman Deb Haaland, “This is why we need more Native Americans in public office. We need more Native voices in the halls of congress and tribes need a seat at the table for every decision that’s made.”

“I ask for us to continue coming together for these conversations like this to determine how we work together to improve conditions for all of us because the Latinx community needs support at this moment – as does the Native community, as does African American community,” said Monica Ramirez, founder of the Latinx House, “If we are able to link arms and push together, we will be able to achieve the change that is needed. Now and into the future.”

Also during the town hall, panelist Billy Ray Cyrus, in partnership with Genies, announced that they plan to donate 20,000 masks to Native Communities to use for their protection against the COVID-19 virus. 

“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Everyone having a mask begins the defense against the virus.” said Billy Ray Cyrus, “Let’s keep the momentum going and hopefully this pandemic passes soon and we can get back to living, loving and taking care of one another.”

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