Tohono O'odham Nation Commits $1M to UArizona to Combat COVID-19

Robert C. Robbins speaking at a podium

President Robert C. Robbins delivers remarks at an event announcing a $1 million gift from the Tohono O'odham Nation to fund COVID-19-related research. Also in attendance were Timothy Joaquin (left), the Nation's legislative chairman, and Nation Chairman Ned Norris Jr.

Sun Czar Belous/College of Medicine – Phoenix

The Tohono O'odham Nation has committed $1 million to the University of Arizona to help researchers fight COVID-19.

The gift was announced today at the UArizona College of Medicine – Phoenix at an event that included university President Robert C. Robbins, Tohono O'odham Nation Chairman Ned Norris Jr. and Tohono O'odham Nation Legislative Council Chairman Timothy Joaquin. Michael Crow, president of Arizona State University, also attended. ASU is also receiving $1 million from the Tohono O'odham Nation.

The University of Arizona, the state's land-grant institution, has been actively involved in understanding the coronavirus and testing people across the state since the pandemic's arrival in the U.S. in the spring. An antibody test developed by immunologists in the College of Medicine – Tucson has been deployed throughout Arizona in partnership with Gov. Doug Ducey. The university also has developed a program to quickly test its students, faculty and staff, and has shared testing kits with communities across Arizona.

The Tohono O'odham Nation's contribution will accelerate the work of UArizona researchers to create new, more efficient, effective and affordable COVID-19 tests, Robbins said.

"The University of Arizona is proud to partner with the Tohono O'odham Nation, particularly as our main campus is located on their ancestral homelands," Robbins said. "As Arizona's land-grant university, our mission is to serve the entire state, and the Nation's support will allow this work to continue and expand, and help Arizona emerge stronger from this pandemic."

Crow said more than 2,000 researchers at ASU were working to better understand the coronavirus and come up with science-based solutions to fight it. The funding, he added, will help that work to continue.

The funding will come from the Tohono O'odham Nation's 12% gaming revenue grants that are required under its compact to share with local community programs. Under the compact, the Tohono O'odham Nation and other tribes are required to share a percentage of gaming revenues with local governments and qualified nonprofits.

The program is part of the compacts that were enacted in 2003 and since that time, the Tohono O'odham Nation has awarded more than 500 grants to local governments and organizations. The Tohono O'odham Nation is taking the unique step of awarding portions of its 12% grant funding from this year and next year to support efforts to combat the pandemic. These are the largest contributions the Nation has made to individual entities since the program began.

"This virus is showing no signs of letting up, and until we have better testing, treatment, and a vaccine, our communities remain at risk and our economy will continue to falter," Norris said. "That is why the Nation made the decision to contribute these funds – which we were already committed to share – to support the world-class research taking place right here in Arizona that is working to overcome the pandemic."

The Tohono O'odham Nation is a federally recognized tribe with more than 35,000 enrolled citizens. The Nation has the second-largest tribal land base in the United States, with more than 2.8 million acres of reservation land in central and southern Arizona. The Tohono O'odham Nation operates casinos at three locations in Southern Arizona – Tucson, Sahuarita and Why – and one in the West Valley near Glendale.