Three Arizona tribes receive HUD grant for COVID-19 relief

By: - November 23, 2021 10:21 am

The seal of the Sovereign Nation of the Cocopahs. Photo by Marine 69-71 | Wikimedia Commons./CC-BY-SA-4.0

In an effort to protect the community’s most precious assets, the Cocopah Indian Tribe is moving forward with plans to buy homes for its elderly population after receiving a $1 million dollar grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The funding from the grant is for elders from the Cocopah Indian Tribe and will be used to buy 10 new mobile homes, which will allow them to shelter in place if needed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Raymond Robles, the Cocopah Indian Housing and Development executive director.

“These private accommodations will afford isolation and recovery for the at risk tribal population,” Robles said in an email to the Arizona Mirror

The Cocopah Indian Tribe’s tribal land is located 13 miles south of Yuma, along the Colorado River. The tribe’s land has a unique geographical location that borders the United States, Mexico, Arizona and California.

“The main rationale for the project is to protect the Cocopah tribal cultural assets which exist in the elder population. The elderly, who are the most susceptible to the pandemic, are the living archive of the Cocopah people,” Robles said. “Protecting the information in relation to culture, traditions, language, art, and spiritual beliefs are essential to future generations.”

The funding comes from HUD’s Indian Community Block Grant as part of its American Rescue Plan grants. HUD awarded about $80 million in grants to 68 tribal communities across the United States. Three tribes in Arizona were awarded: the Cocopah Indian Tribe, the Navajo Nation and the San Carlos Apache Tribe.

The tribe applied for the grant originally in 2020, at the height of the pandemic, to address its needs for the elderly population. Robles said HUD told the tribe it qualified for the grant, but the program ran out of funding so it wasn’t able to award the funding. 

When more money was set aside for tribes in 2021, Robles said, “We got a letter that our application would be funded for the original purpose, which was to isolate the elders back in 2020 when the pandemic was really raging at the time.”

“These funds are highly competitive and we are very fortunate to receive these funds given the national tribal nations competing for the same limited funding,” Robles said. 

Robles said the tribe has not received the funding yet, but as soon as it does, it’s  going to place an order for the mobile homes. He thinks they won’t be available for the community until at least July 2022. 

“In case there is a variant or (the pandemic) gets out of control again we’ll have a place for the elderly to shelter in place as needed,” Robles said. “It’s our effort to prepare.”

“We’re a small tribe and typically we get overlooked because of the large ones,” he added. “We’re just appreciative that they see the importance of protecting the culture, language and art.”

The Navajo Nation received $3.4 million, and will use the funds to construct 69 septic systems, install drain fields, and repair water lines, all of which will improve sanitation services. 

The San Carlos Apache Tribe received $1.7 million, and that will allow the San Carlos Apache Housing Authority to provide emergency rent, mortgage, and utility assistance to families affected by COVID-19.

These funds to tribes will help protect the health and safety of their communities, HUD stated in a press release. The funds will help low- and moderate-income individuals and families by expanding access to safe housing, a suitable living environment and economic opportunities.

“HUD understands its responsibility to Indigenous communities. These awards will provide critical funding to Tribes to help them prevent, prepare for, and respond to COVID-19,” HUD Deputy Secretary Adrianne Todman said in a press release. “These awards reiterate the Biden-Harris Administration’s commitment to working together to meet urgent housing and community development needs in Tribal communities.”

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Shondiin Silversmith
Shondiin Silversmith

Shondiin Silversmith is an award-winning Native journalist based on the Navajo Nation. Silversmith has covered Indigenous communities for more than 10 years, and covers Arizona's 22 federally recognized sovereign tribal nations, as well as national and international Indigenous issues. Her digital, print and audio stories have been published by USA TODAY, The Arizona Republic, Navajo Times, The GroundTruth Project and PRX's "The World." Silversmith earned her master's degree in journalism and mass communication in Boston before moving back to Arizona to continue reporting stories on Indigenous communities. She is a member of the Native American Journalist Association and has made it a priority in her career to advocate, pitch and develop stories surrounding Indigenous communities in the newsrooms she works in.