Today is Indigenous People’s Day, a moment for us to honor the traditions and wisdom of the first people to inhabit this land. It’s a day to acknowledge the mass displacement, injustice, violence and racism they have suffered, to rethink the narrative of our history, and most importantly rededicate ourselves to a more just and equitable future for indigenous people throughout the world.
It is fitting on this day that we launch a very important initiative to raise and match up to $50,000 to provide clean water to Native Americans in partnership with our trusted friends Wine to Water, founder Doc Hendley, Josh Ewing, Executive Director, Friends of Cedar Mesa and an extraordinary Navajo leader, Janine Yazzie. We’ve always believed that strong leaders with moral courage make for stronger communities. As we look for ways to provide direct help to those most in need during this pandemic, we turned to the great leaders we are honored to call our partners and friends.
That’s why the first person we reached out to was Josh. Josh works to protect the Bears Ears National Monument, land sacred to the Navajo, Ute, Hopi and other indigenous communities.
“If I could, I’d chain myself to every bulldozer that threatens this landscape.”
Thanks to Josh’s leadership we were able to provide food and PPE to Hopi, Zuni and other smaller tribes in Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico.
We were then introduced to Janene Yazzie, who is an extraordinary leader from the Navajo Nation who works with Dine’ (Navajo) communities to develop projects, programs and policies that promote sustainability, environmental justice, and self-governance. Janene will tell you she was born into this work and has built a career and life doing what she is most passionate about, “helping my people on frontline battle systemic injustice.”
She also co-founded the first Navajo Nation community-led watershed planning program for local control in the sustainable management, restoration, and protection of natural resources.
Before the first case of COVID was diagnosed, Janene knew it would devastate her community. She knew that remote and vulnerable members would not be served and that they had to prepare in the spring for the upcoming winter.
When we asked Janene how we could help the Navajo, her answer was swift: provide clean water, particularly expanded water storage for the most vulnerable households and repairs to unrestricted community wells.
The Navajo Nation is the size of Connecticut, and 30-40% of households do not have running water. For many Navajo households, water is their largest expense. The pandemic, severe drought conditions and a legacy of contamination including lead, magnesium, arsenic and even uranium create a perfect storm of need.
“You can’t wash your hands with bad water.”
When it comes to addressing the need for clean water, there’s no one like Doc Hendley. Doc was a bartender whose provocative dream of ending water-related death and disease led to the founding of Wine to Water. Earlier this month, the organization celebrated the milestone of providing clean water to one million people.
When we reached out to Doc about the Navajo, he was ready. It turns out he and his team had just finished wrapping up their own strategic plan for the next few years and already decided to launch a major water initiative for indigenous communities here in the U.S.
“I’m all in,” Doc told us. “We can help provide the latest technology and expertise, get supplies donated and help raise money from our friends and supporters.”
“Not only is there no life without water, there can be no end to poverty without there first being an end to the water crisis.”
We might be facing a perfect storm, but our stars were aligning, thanks to strong leadership and financial help. We connected Doc and Janene. There was a lot for them to discuss, from water profiles to filter capacities, red tape workarounds and identifying the most vulnerable. But Doc cut right to the chase. “What can we do right now that will help most?” he asked Janene.
The answer was getting water filters directly to families in need. Doc agreed to source filters and press for donations and discounts from his partners. Janene agreed to provide a list of 500 households and their water profiles. And, she told us ‘the list will include four of the remaining WWII Navajo Code Talker heroes, who are living in unacceptable conditions.”
As for us? Alnoba’s Grand Circle Foundation will match up to $50,000 in donations through November 3 to provide filters first and then work with Doc, Josh and Janene on water storage and well remediation solutions.
We all also agreed that the Native communities need to control their own water. A vital part of this work will include training and capacity building for local governance of water systems and resources. On this Indigenous People’s Day, we hope you will join us in this work to ensure that the Navajo and Hopi people have that most basic human right: access to clean water and, as Doc would put it, “the life and dignity” that goes with it.