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Billy Ray Cyrus joins lawmakers to highlight coronavirus impact on Native Americans

Country music legend Billy Ray Cyrus, actress Piper Perabo and a member of the Black Eyed Peas will join Native American members of Congress and tribal government leaders for a town hall discussion of COVID-19’s disproportionate impact on Native communities.

The event, aimed at highlighting both the economic and health impact, is co-hosted by the Black Eyed Peas’ Taboo (who is of Shoshone descent), along with several Native American nonprofits, including IllumiNative and its #WarriorUp campaign, which urges people to check on their elders and fight for visibility during the pandemic.

Reps. Deb Haaland and Sharice Davids, the first Native American women elected to Congress, are scheduled to join the panel, which will stream on their Facebook pages at 8 p.m. ET on Thursday.

The new coronavirus has hit a number of minority communities especially hard, including Native American tribes across several U.S. regions. The Navajo Nation, which comprises parts of Utah, Arizona and New Mexico, has seen a high infection rate. As of April 29, almost 2,000 of the reservation’s 170,000 inhabitants have tested positive, while 62 have died.

Cryus, a two-time Grammy winner, has taken to social media to dedicate performances to the Nation and encourage his followers to donate, singing and whistling a country-tinged version of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”

Meanwhile, tribes have had difficulty accessing funds appropriated by Congress to help small businesses. Many casinos, which fund tribal communities, have closed and were left out of the first round of small business aid appropriated by Congress. Native American tribes have also waged a court battle with the Trump administration over whether coronavirus relief funding should go to for-profit Alaskan Native Corporations.

The organizers of Thursday’s event want viewers to know “how the pandemic is exacerbating disparities and inequalities affecting not only Native Americans but all communities of color,” they said in a statement. According to the group, “Americans know little to nothing about Native peoples, which is critical when these numbers are translated directly into emergency funding during times of crises like the current pandemic.”

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