Jo Overton ~ Protect Native Elders

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Jo Overton a co-founder of Protect Native Elders and a proud tribal member of the Sicangu Lakota (Rosebud Sioux) people.  Protect Native Elders is a diverse team of indigenous community members, activists, healthcare professionals and other like-minded individuals spread across the United States. They are a Native founded organization and use native principles and values to do their work. This is a 100% volunteer grassroots which uses 100% of funds (minus expenses such as processing fees, shipping and fuel) to provide rapid relief supplies to Indigenous communities, families, medical staff and other front-line workers.

Current Request:
- Help with water:
  • We are looking for donations of food-grade storage containers for water  that can be distributed to homes in need
  • If folks are interested in making targeted donations to support water initiatives, we can use funds to purchase more water barrels and containers
  • If there are connections with organizations wanting to donate water trailers, these can help water distribution
  • If there is a connection to a water bottling company that can make a large donation of bottled water such as 1 or 5-gallon containers, that would amazing as well.

    If you can assist with this need please email: Dmitri at

Help share this mission:

We've put together some resources for you includding memes, the transcript from Jo's portion of our Indigenous Voices for the Pandemic and Jo answered some of the questions there were asked.

For the memes please feel free to download and share on Social Media. You can link to Protect Native Elders or back here to our webinar so that others can learn the facts about the challenges that the native people of North America are facing.

Memes ~Click on the image you want and then Save the Image so you can share it!

Please share either the link to Protect Native Elders
Or the link to the webinar:

Questions asked during the webinar answered by Jo Overton:

Can I give to Jo Overton w. Paypal? Is ProtectNativeElders a 501.3c? We have a fiscal sponsor which allows us to give tax deductions while we are in the process of getting our 501 3c going. If you go, there is a donate page. There is a yellow button there that is our paypal link. Thank you so much for caring enough to help.

How many elders have passed?  How many elders are left? That is really dependent on the tribe. There are over 500 tribes in the United States, all with different populations. Because of the living conditions and lack of good health care, our older tribal members have shorter life spans. With Covid-19 attacking and taking the lives of our elders, they are at much higher risk of dying. 

Can you talk about the efforts to record and preserve the wisdom carried by the elders? This is also a tribe by tribe effort. Some tribes have the resources necessary to record the wisdom, language and life experiences of our elders. Some tribes do not, and that means the wisdom is being lost.

What can we do now to help the reservations? If you live in America, please pressure your local and national representatives to include more funding for Indian Health Services and other things for the welfare of the Native Americans. Regardless of where you live you can donate to our organization, or you can look on the internet for ways to help your local tribes if you prefer.

How can we institute change for the support of the native tribes and increase the money going to the reservations?  is this federal or local? This is definitely a federal issue. Because the tribes are sovereign, the state laws are not applicable most of the time. The federal government of the United States is the entity that continues to underfund programs for the benefit of the Native Americans living on the reservations. 

Food sovereignty is a big issue. Living in food deserts means the local Native Americans are unable to buy and eat health food. There are organizations that are aimed at creating food sovereignty on different reservations. You can donate or start your own. Learning to garden, preparing and eating food that are more healthy is also an important part of becoming more healthy.  

These statistics are shocking and a reflection of not only our ignorance but our lack of connection to all of life. They are shocking I am just so grateful that people are finally starting to see the travesty of what is institutional genocide. We are the invisible, the uncounted, the other Thank you for seeing and for caring!

The Transcript

Clare: (Introducing Jo Overton) Their federally recognized name is the Rosebud Sioux. She is a co-founder of an indigenous founded and nonprofit called Protect Native Elders and she works as the indigenous outreach coordinator Jo, I'm so glad that you're here. And I would love you to please bring us together so that we can step into sacred space through which to do this call. Thank you.

Jo Overton: Absolutely.

The Lakota believe that the Great Spirit creator is actually a combination of Unci Maka, which is Mother Earth, Grandmother Earth and Wakan Tanka, that's the great spirit. It is that connection, all of it together. And so when we pray, we talk about the great spirit Wakan Tanka. But that's what it is, all those things. And I'm honored to be here in this healing and whole space which we don't get to participate in often.

Wakan Tanka, whose voice I hear in the wind, whose breath gives life to all the world, hear me.
I need your strength and wisdom.
Let me walk in beauty and make my eyes ever behold, the red and purple sunset.
Make my hands respect the things you have made, and my ears sharp to hear your voice.
Make me wise, so that I may understand the things you have taught my people.
Help me to remain calm and strong in the face of all that comes towards me.
Let me learn the lessons you have hidden in every leaf and rock.
Help me seek pure thoughts and act with the intention of helping others.
Help me find compassion without empathy overwhelming me.
I seek strength, not to be greater than my brother, (or) sister, but to fight my greatest enemy… myself. Make me always ready to come to you with clean hands and straight eyes.
So when life fades as the fading sunset, my spirit may come to you without shame.

And this was translated by Chief Yellow Lark and I just add my words:
Goddess creator, universe, Wakan Tanka. Bless all of us who've come together and let our minds be wise and our hands be busy with good work. And I pray this.

We say, at the end of a prayer, we say Mitakuye Oyasin. So I'll let all of you say that. And I'll say it and then everybody also say it, Mitakuye Oyasin. And it means all my relatives, and that doesn't mean just the people it means everything. Every leaf, every breath of wind, every rainbow, every drop of water, every deer, every little tiny mouse, all of it is all of us. And I welcome everyone into this space.

Clare: Thank you so much, Jo. Thank you for bringing that immediate sense of greater intimacy with all that is, so that we can lean into it with you.

So there is so much that none of us know about what's going on in the lives of indigenous peoples. Full stop. Before we bring in the realities of a pandemic, and the pandemic has been, I think so all consuming for so many of us where we are, but in a way we've been incredibly centered on our own lives and what's going on. And actually what we need to be doing at this time is opening up and understanding the impact that it's having around the world, because so much of that is not actually being expressed. So, Jo, I'm going to open it up to you to just start wherever it feels true for you in terms of we're here simply to listen and to learn and to understand. So what's happening?

Jo: I… the very first… well, it was a little bit mid March. Of course, this pandemic is rising and I'm home because I do admit that I live in the privilege to be able to stay home in this and I understand that there are many who cannot. But as I live in Utah, not in South Dakota where my tribe is, and as the Navajo brothers and sisters began to die I said, I cannot, I will not stand here and let them die and do nothing. And I began to sew masks, which connected me with Tyrone White Horse who was doing masks for elders. And from there, in just a couple of short months we blossomed into a nonprofit organization that is providing PPE, personal protective equipment to hospitals, and also to the communities and are always we are protecting the elders. The elders all… I feel like it's probably true for all indigenous people that are here, that our elders are everything to us. They carry the knowledge and the wisdom of the people. And so they hold our past but one thing that we don't say often is they also hold our future.

Without them, without their wisdom, without their guidance, we don't know which way to go. And then we won't be able to go where we are supposed to. And in doing that, we lose our way, we lose part of ourselves in the process. So saving them is everything. And so everything that we're doing is all aimed at that, all of it. But it also means taking care of the other generations also, we have provided food and hand sanitizer, and just so many things. We have this just this huge outreach. And we started on Navajo because they were in trouble… about with COVID generally speaking with Native Americans, you're likely to be 10 times more likely to get it and four times more likely to die from it. But the numbers are higher in many places like on Navajo (territory), and perhaps on some of the other places a little bit lower, but not by much. And that's on or off the reservation, which is an interesting thing.

I… what COVID has done is ripped the cover off of the people of the world not seeing what's happening to all the indigenous people. We have… it goes back hundreds of years and the colonizers and what the laws that have been passed and being herded into reservations, and we end up with the inability to eat healthy food, because we live in the middle of nowhere and you can't get healthy food that you can afford. And with that poor nutrition comes a lot of diseases. Diabetes, obesity, cancer, autoimmune diseases, and all of that underlying health problems is part of the reason why natives are dying.

Some of it like on the Navajo reservation, they, like up to 40% of the people don't have running water, no electricity, no cell phone reception. There are third world countries in Africa that have better cell phone reception than we do. And on Navajo, the Navajo people and probably something that is very relevant to where we are in this space. The Navajo elders have said that COVID arose out of the ashes of the Australian bushfires. So bringing together that climate change, that destruction, that sense that yes, we are all connected. And what is happening in other places, affects us also.

So we are with Protect Native Elders. We are inter-tribal. So we are serving tribes all over the United States, also Canada. We've also been sending supplies to a tribe that straddles Arizona and Mexico. We serve all indigenous people who reach out and we do as much as we possibly can. And we've been able to do things that are literally life saving.

Without water. You can't wash your hands. No running water, you can't wash your hands for 20 seconds. That's a ridiculous waste of water that you need. So hand sanitizer becomes life saving. When you live in intergenerational homes, as many indigenous people do. Part of it is traditional, part of it is lack of affordable and available housing. So, very few people want to live with 15 people in a small trailer, they would prefer to spread out a little bit, but that's not really feasible on probably more than 90% of the reservations in the US. So pretty high numbers in terms of that. So, hand sanitizer again, and wearing a mask can make all the difference in keeping healthy. There's no way to isolate or quarantine one person. There is no privilege that gives you a room and a bathroom by yourself. It just doesn't happen. On the reservation, it's nearly unheard of.

And it's just rising really fast like the rest of America is taking a deep breath. But across the reservations. COVID is rising (and) rising quickly. On Rosebud (they) went from three cases to 45. And the first death of an elder in two weeks. It just runs like wildfire through some of the reservations. And we have very poor health care because it's a federal program in the United States. And it is the least funded of all federal health care programs, less money, sometimes less than a half, sometimes less than two thirds, like an entire, it can be as much as like three to $4,000 when they might be spending eight to $9,000 per federal prisoner.

We are at the bottom, Medicaid, Medicare. And it's always been that way it leaves us with not enough hospitals. Poorly staffed because there's not enough money. Poorly equipped because there's not enough money. And so, on Rosebud (reservation), the life expectancy is 57 years… 57.

And tuberculosis is endemic across the reservations. I know people that have tuberculosis, I know people that have died from it. And people say, “There’s tuberculosis in America?” It's like, look next door. You know, they haven't seen us. We're invisible. We're invisible in the statistics. Right now with the COVID cases and COVID deaths, many of the states are choosing to put Native American cases in ‘other’ (category). We are ‘other’. So there are no reliable statistics for how bad it is. Except if you go to the reservations themselves and ask how many cases are there.

And it both breaks my heart to do this work and gives me such… I don't know if joy is the right word, what I say is, I feel the ancestors around me. They are guiding me on this golden path. And when we reach an impasse, there comes into my, into our hands, another golden ribbon, and we take it and we weave it into the road, and we continue to follow it. And it has been one of the most spiritual journeys I've ever taken in my life. And there is no doubt that I was born to be here today to do what I'm doing. And I have the joy to be able to work with other loving and kind people. And every day it is amazing to me the things that happen that…

If you want a small example, like we are kind of having a hard time with cloth masks as we've lost one of our largest suppliers. So a phone call comes and they like, “We'd like to donate a semi truck of fabric to you, where you only pay shipping.” And so now all of a sudden, we're able going to be able to get fabric and other materials into the hands of the natives. So they can sew masks for their own communities instead of needing to take charity from outside. So we are really excited to. It doesn't mean we don't need other masks, but we love the idea of people being able to serve their own communities and it has been amazing. Just an amazing journey.

Clare: Jo, thank you. I am astonished, horrified, profoundly humbled more than anything just aware that the majority of people in this world have no idea. Not about COVID at all, but not about the circumstances that are true on the reservations. Not about how… you know, we may know something about the genocides, we may know something about the roaring injustices, but very few people have any conception of the state that Native American peoples are forced to live in on a daily basis. I was going to ask you about why 10% are more likely to get it, but you illustrated it so brilliantly. You're living… you've been pushed off the map. You've been, you've spoken so coherently and succinctly to the whole picture of it, which I am so so grateful for.

There are questions coming in this one, “How can we Institute change for the support of the native tribes and increase money going to the reservations? Is this federal or local?” I want to let everybody know that we will be sharing all the links, I mean, most of the links are going to be on the web page that this call is hooked to, but we're going to do everything we can to get the information out so that you know what you're doing. It's incredible to me to hear that you are… I mean, thank God for you, Jo. And thank God, you've managed to get this going so swiftly. And also that you're working across tribes. Just simply doing what's needed and just being in service. Because right now it feels like what's needed more than ever is the holding of hands. The recognizing that there actually are no divides. And that what's going to bring us out of this is profound levels of solidarity. So how do we… like how do we wake the world up? How do we stop this farce of lack of funding, and lack of acknowledgement? Like what's what's to be done? What can we do?

Jo: Well, it is federal, and each nation, each federally recognized tribe has a sovereignty over where they live. So according to my tribe, we have our own laws that rule the people in the area, don't apply to the white people. But it also means the colonizer laws don't apply to us on the reservation unless they're federal. So if a crime happens, it has to be addressed federally, so the FBI would come in to investigate a crime because the state police don't have anything. And so going to your federal representatives and saying this is not okay. And being astonished and horrified that Indian health services, also known as IHS, are so poorly funded, go in astonishment and horrifying to your representatives and say, “I'm not okay with this. What are you going to do about it? Why don't the Navajo have their own water? Why is their water all tainted with uranium so that everybody on the reservation there has high uranium levels in their bodies including newborn babies?” You know, it’s like it was poisoned by companies. They don't have… they cannot use their regular water because it is poisoned by the uranium and there also is arsenic in the water. But they don't have paved roads and it’s so large that it makes it really difficult to get around. But and there are so many people working for good. Everybody on the reservations. It's true of indigenous people in general, I believe. It is community before self. And that holds true everywhere. There are Navajos helping Navajos, Hopi helping Hopi, Lakota helping Lakota. And so I say for me, follow your heart. Where does your passion lie? Is there a light that says I want to do this? I want to provide food or I want to provide cloth masks. I want to give money. I say follow your heart. If you need more information, there's always that available. And just, if you follow that light, you will find where you belong and what you're supposed to be doing. It's been placed within you for a reason.

Clare: So thank you Jo. There's another question here. “Are there any bills in the US House or Senate that could help the conditions of the native nations, especially those on the reservations? If not, would you like to write a bill and we could look for legislators to support it?” She’s saying maybe it's temporary funding, or maybe it's something more substantial and long lasting?

Jo: Right. Well, right now, we actually have Native American Congress people like Deb Holland. So absolutely contacting the native congressional people. And now I wish I had all the names and addresses but I'm sure that's available if you look up all the native ones and yes, they are absolutely fighting for native rights. And so addressing them would be very helpful.