South Dakota Native American group works on COVID vaccine outreach | #socialmedia

A national nonprofit organization has awarded the Wotakuye Mutual Aid Society in Rapid City $30,000 to assist in overcoming COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy across Native American communities.

IllumiNative is a native, woman-led nonprofit. As part of IllumiNative’s “For the Love of Our People” campaign, the group has given $30,000 grants to 13 Native community organizations across the country. South Dakota, along with Oklahoma, Wisconsin, New Mexico, California and other states were among the list of recipient states.

According to the CDC, Native American communities have the highest rates of COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations and deaths.

More:Want a COVID-19 vaccine? South Dakota Urban Indian Health may have some they need to use

IllumiNative founder Crystal Echo Hawk said the genesis of the initiative came at the start of COVID-19, and the misinformation that came with it.

“We saw very quickly as COVID began spreading that there was little to no media coverage of the disproportionate impact COVID was having within Native communities,” she said.

Hawk says the organization felt they had to organize quickly to shine a light on those dire circumstances and the resilience of Native people.

“We also wanted to really talk about the resilience of Native people in the way that even when the federal government didn’t deliver,” said Hawk. “Native communities and tribes and organizations were really working to organize to take care of our people.”

More:The unseen toll of COVID-19 for high school athletes on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation

The campaign leveraged a $900,000 grant from the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative to identify hotspot areas across Native communities and support the selected 13 Native organizations in their vaccination efforts. Part of that will include developing incentives, distributing COVID-19 information from “trusted messengers” in Native communities and increasing outreach via social media and telephone. 

The campaign is also working with Native Tik-Tokers to reach Native youth that have been more hesitant with getting the vaccine, said Hawk.

“We did a national survey last year of over 6,400 Native peoples from all 50 states and found that upwards of 96% do not trust the government due to the history, and the U.S. government’s treatment of Native peoples,” she said. “We’re really working hard with these grantees to ensure people can make informed decisions and to really hear it from people in their community.”

Email human rights reporter Nicole Ki at or follow on Twitter at @_nicoleki.

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