“Access to water is a human right that has been denied our people for far too long,” said Janene Yazzie, New Mexico Lead. “Now we are dealing with the repercussions of that and it’s costing the lives of our precious loved ones. As we grapple with this epidemic we will not lose sight of the need to have this basic human right fulfilled and our responsibility to protect our sacred waters for food sovereignty and water security for future generations.”
With an average of 30 percent of residents of the Navajo-Hopi territory having limited to no access to running water, and many without access to electricity, the COVID-19 pandemic has intensified a decades-long infrastructure crisis. One-third of Navajo and Hopi families in the territory must travel miles to haul water, while only 16 grocery stores and small food markets serve the entire area. Yet as COVID-19 cases on the Navajo Nation continue to increase, the Navajo & Hopi Families COVID-19 Relief Fund is building momentum to address a food and water crisis in the area.
A group of volunteers led by Lt. Robbin Preston, Tuba City Distribution Team Leader for the Navajo & Hopi Families COVID-19 Relief Effort, have taken up the task of providing water to their community during this crisis.
“Access to clean water is a necessity while our communities are urged to shelter in place.” said Ethel Branch, Relief Fund Founder and Arizona Co-Lead. “We are extremely grateful for all of the amazing support in our efforts to ensure families have enough food and water to sustain themselves through this crisis… Every contribution is extremely important and amplifies our goal of working together to help our precious elders and those most vulnerable in this time of crisis.”
Further exasperating the situation is the presence of 523 abandoned uranium mine claims on or near the Navajo Nation, industrial ruins of a by-gone era of extractive, resource-driven capitalist exploitation. The claims, comprised of 609 mine sites and 1,265 mine features (such as waste piles and mine openings), have contributed to severe rates of cancer among residents and placed undo burden on the safety of the communities food and water supplies.
“With our sacred waterways polluted and our wells contaminated by uranium or drained by coal mining, we have had our immune systems continuously attacked through degradation and poisoning of our Mother Earth,” said community leader Kim Smith. “But just as our bodies have natural defenses to fight diseases, we have been fighting here in ceremony and prayer to ensure our ways of life are protected for coming generations. Right now, staying home, social distancing, wearing masks, washing our hands, and safely and responsibly contributing to relief work is our way to keep walking in beauty.”
The Navajo Nation, which is about the size of the state of West Virginia, is expected to become one of the top three hot spots in the country per-capita for COVID-19 cases. Yet while West Virginia has a population of 1.8 million, the Navajo Nation has 1/10th its population and has 200 more COVID-19 cases already reported. Huffington Post reports that the number of COVID-19 cases on the Nation “surged 367% in two weeks.”
“In many homes on the reservation, there are multi-generational families that live there. The virus is attacking this important family unit by spreading among entire families who cannot isolate from each other. Providing food and water for these families is essential to an effective strategy to stop this pandemic in our communities.” said Jessica Stago, Water Coordinator for the Relief Effort.
For information on how you can make a direct contribution, or ways in which you can provide solidarity to Native communities during the Coronavirus Pandemic and beyond, please visit : http://www.navajohopisolidarity.org