FARMINGTON – A star-studded virtual graduation celebrating the Indigenous graduates of 2020 is taking place Tuesday evening with celebrities like Ava DuVernay, Mark Ruffalo, Sean Penn and Chris Evans scheduled to speak.
The event is organized by Protect the Sacred, the grassroots initiative created in response to the COVID-10 pandemic on the Navajo Nation. The group previously organized a Navajo Strong celebrity-filled fundraiser video to raise money for the Navajo Nation’s response to the coronavirus crisis.
The livestream event will take place at 6 p.m. Tuesday with Native American singers, dancers, elders and leaders, according to event organizers. Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez and U.S. Rep. Deb Haaland of New Mexico are scheduled to speak.
Protect the Sacred Co-founder and Director Allie Young said she was proud of the Native youths across the county for the sacrifices they have made over the last few months.
“They graciously accepted virtual celebrations with their families and friends in lieu of large celebrations to keep our people and elders safe,” Young said. “They are selfless and they are our future.”
“During a pivotal point in America’s history, Indigenous youth across the country have the power to preserve and grow their tribal nations by participating in democracy,” the event description said.
In addition to Navajo leaders, other celebrities are slated to make an appearance, including filmmakers DuVernay and Taika Waititi, actors Ruffalo, Penn, Evans, Tessa Thompson, Wilmer Valderrama, Paul Rudd, Piper Perabo, Dawn-Lyen Gardner, Zahn McClarnon, athlete Jordan Nolan, and musician Jewel.
Protect the Sacred has also set up a series of challenges to encourage children and teenagers to stay home during the coronavirus pandemic. Called the Indian Country Hero Challenge, the program is designed to encourage youths to connect with their Native cultures, stories and languages from their elders while maintaining social-distancing practices.
“They are more connected to the vast information and technology in the world, and combining that knowledge with the values, medicine ways and cultures that root us in the land of who we are, the Original Peoples,” Young said. “They are coming up with new and inventive ways of revitalizing language and culture, and that gives us so much hope in these uncertain times.”
The Navajo Nation, which was previously one of the top hot spots in the country for the coronavirus, has made progress toward reducing the spread of the virus. But the neighboring tribes of the Pueblo and Apache are now seeing high rates of the virus.
Protect the Sacred organizers said they hope the virtual graduation will inspire young adults to learn more about their civic duties.
“We’re excited to honor them with this virtual celebration to show our appreciation because they deserve it and should know that they are not the forgotten class,” Young said. “They are the brave, strong, resilient, Indigenous class of 2020, and they are seen.”
For the graduation event, the organization partnered with Urban Native Era, a Native-owned company that also designed an official Indigenous Class of 2020 shirt.