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'All that we hold sacred hung in the balance': A Q&A with Allie Young, Founder, Protect the Sacred

December 07, 2021

Headshot_Allie_Young_Protect_the_SacredAllie Young is a citizen of the Diné Navajo Nation from the Northern Agency of the reservation in Northern New Mexico. She is founder of Protect the Sacred, which educates and empowers the next generation of Navajo and Indian Country leaders and allies to use storytelling and community building to strengthen Indigenous sovereignty and protect Indigenous elders, languages, and medicine ways. Protect the Sacred is a program of Harness, an organization launched after the 2016 presidential elections to educate, inspire, and activate an interdependent community of cultural organizers to use the power of storytelling to imagine and create a more equitable world.

Protect the Sacred began as an emergency response to the COVID-19 pandemic — which struck the Navajo Nation particularly hard — to organize Navajo youth to stay home and keep their families safe. Ahead of the 2020 elections, Young organized Ride to the Polls, which encouraged tribal citizens living on reservations and in remote communities to saddle up and travel to polling places. Over the past year, Protect the Sacred has expanded into a grassroots movement supporting frontline efforts to address the pandemic and ensure access to healthcare information and vaccines.

This Native American Heritage Month, PND asked Young about her work with Protect the Sacred, including efforts to contain the spread of COVID-19 and its impact on Native cultural heritage; her focus on youth; and the impact of storytelling on racial equity.

Philanthropy News Digest: What compelled you to return home to the reservation and launch Protect the Sacred? What were your immediate priorities in the earliest days?

Allie Young: In March 2020, I made the decision to travel from Los Angeles — where I’ve resided the last five years — to my homelands of the Navajo Nation to be with family and in my community. The first confirmed COVID-19 case reached the Navajo Nation before I did. By the end of March, the community was abuzz with talk of the rapidly rising positivity rate. By mid-May, the Navajo Nation dominated national headlines for having the highest per-capita infection rate in the United States. Few of these early articles spoke to the threat of cultural devastation posed by COVID-19. For my community and others like it, much more than death was at stake: All that we hold sacred hung in the balance.

When my former colleagues at the Indian Health Service asked in early March whether I’d be interested in helping them execute a social media campaign centered on COVID-19 awareness, I agreed without hesitation. This felt like a glimpse of hózhó (beauty and balance) — an opportunity to help change the trajectory of the virus in the Navajo Nation.

Read the full Q&A with Allie Young.

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