Supporting Indian Country during the pandemic
Individual and corporate efforts are underway to address the disproportionate impacts of COVID-19 in Indian Country.
In the early months of COVID-19, Stephen Wu, a member of Wells Fargo’s Consumer and Small Business Banking team based in Tempe, Arizona, heard about an effort to support nearby tribal communities, which have experienced disproportionate impacts of the pandemic. Volunteers within the Chinese American medical community had amassed masks, hand sanitizer, and other essentials that were in short supply, but they needed help getting donations to the right contacts in Indian Country.
Wu reached out to colleagues at Wells Fargo who had been involved in a previous volunteer effort on tribal lands, including local leadership of the Native People’s Team Member Network in Arizona. Within a couple of days, he connected Apache and Navajo tribal communities in the area with about $20,000 worth of supplies.
“We have a lot of great people, and they have great hearts and great spirits for volunteerism,” Wu said of his Wells Fargo colleagues. “Any time there is a need in the community, people here are willing to help.”
The situation for tribal communities during COVID-19 has been complicated by several factors, including an increased risk for the disease due to health disparities, their remote locations, and largely shutdown businesses in the gaming, tourism, and hospitality industries — a major source of income for some tribes.
Wells Fargo is participating in numerous efforts to help alleviate the challenges. The company has contributed more than $1 million across more than 20 nonprofit organizations since the start of the pandemic, adding to the company’s five-year, $50 million commitment made in 2018 to expand its focus on tribal philanthropy.
“We have been serving tribal communities for more than 60 years,” said Don Pearson, lead region president for Branch Banking Desert Mountain. “We believe it is important to support organizations that empower these communities. We also want to provide access to the tools and opportunities that can lead to financial success and well-being.”
Other recent company efforts to support Indian Country during the pandemic include:
- Eleven different Navajo-language signs went up in June at branches located within Navajo Nation, such as one in Window Rock, Arizona, providing guidance and information about updated branch hours, appropriate face coverings, the small business Paycheck Protection Program, stimulus payments, and more.
- Work continues on the Wells Fargo Builds℠ volunteer project to help renovate and build homes for U.S. military veterans who are members of the White Mountain Apache Tribe. The effort started in September 2019. Employees are working with the tribe’s Housing Authority on the repair of homes on the Fort Apache Indian reservation in East Central Arizona. With a recently secured award from the Native American Indian Housing Council, a portion of $600,000 in grants to tribal housing programs announced in June, another build project is slated to begin in October.
- Families from the Navajo Nation community in and around Tuba City, Arizona, received more than 118,000 pounds of food and water through the Wells Fargo’s Drive-Up Food Bank on Aug. 13, in collaboration with St. Mary’s Food Bank.
- Wells Fargo has contributed to the Red Feather Development Group home renovation program, which provides hand-washing stations at homes on the Navajo and Hopi reservations that lack access to clean running water.
- Wells Fargo is providing support for Native-owned small businesses impacted by COVID-19 through Community Development Financial Institutions. Grantees include:
- Oklahoma Native Assets Coalition — deploying emergency cash assistance grants and managing Native asset-building programs.
- Change Labs Inc. — supporting Navajo and Hopi Nation start-up businesses.
- Southern Utah University Rural Health Scholars — administering COVID-19 testing and distributing personal protective equipment.
- The Native American Development Center — supporting its North Dakota Urban Indian COVID-19 Fund.