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PHOENIX, Ariz. — The Tohono O’odham Nation is directing $2 million in gaming revenue sharing contributions to the University of Arizona and Arizona State University to conduct COVID-19 research.

The $1 million commitment to each university comes as part of the tribe’s 12 percent grant program outlined in its gaming compact with the state. The awards will be budgeted from the tribe’s revenue sharing this year and in 2021. 

The funding will support work “ensuring that we emerge from this crisis more quickly and with greater resilience going forward,” Tohono O’odham Nation Chairman Ned Norris Jr. said during the event on Monday, which was live streamed via Zoom from the University of Arizona’s College of Medicine in Phoenix. 

“This pandemic has affected all of us. People have lost loved ones, lost jobs and been isolated from friends and family for months,” Norris said. “The crisis has also intensified the existing disparities in health care and economic opportunity for Native Americans and other communities of color who have been among the hardest hit.” 

Norris used the announcement to call for “broader testing, better treatments and a viable vaccine for this virus” to allow tribal members to again be able to go about their daily lives and allow the nation’s economy to recover.

Tohono O’odham Nation has reported more than 500 positive cases and 28 deaths because of COVID-19.

For ASU, the contribution will help continue to fund the work of more than 2,000 researchers who are studying science-based approaches to fighting COVID-19, according to President Dr. Michael Crow. 

“You’re helping to fuel us to produce the tools and the devices and the systems and the tests and the understanding and the knowledge so that we can manage this virus,” Crow said, calling the contribution an “inspiring investment.”

“There’s no way out unless we work together and there’s no way out unless through science. The masks that we wear — that’s science,” he added. 

Crow also committed to ensuring that the research benefits all people and “that no one will be left out.”

At the University of Arizona, which has been involved in studying the virus and testing people across the state, researchers will use the Tohono O’odham Nation funding to investigate efficient, effective and affordable COVID-19 tests, according to President Robert Robbins. 

“We’re incredibly fortunate to have the scientists we have working on this lethal pandemic,” Robbins said, adding that the university would be “good stewards” of the tribe’s funding. 

Robbins also acknowledged that the University of Arizona, a land-grant institution, resides on the ancestral homelands of the Tohono O’odham Nation. 

The 35,000-member Tohono O’odham Nation has distributed its 12 percent grants to more than 500 local governments and nonprofit organizations, according to Norris, who noted that committing a portion of the revenue sharing over two years was “a unique step” for the tribe. 

“The reason is simple: There’s no moving forward for our safety and our health and our economy until we get this pandemic under control,” he said, calling the contribution “a great deal of money especially since there continues to be great need on the Tohono O’odham Nation.” 

“This partnership between the nation, U-Arizona and ASU will ensure these funds generated in Arizona are spent in Arizona on world-class research to defeat the coronavirus, protect the health of our people and restore our economy,” Norris said.

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