Navajo Nation- being without water during a pandemic

In October, Solidarity Engineering assisted Villanova University on a WASH assessment in the Navajo Nation. This is what inspired this episode.

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Zoel Zohnnie

Instagram: @zoel_zombie, Website: Collective Medicine

After being laid off due to the pandemic in spring of 2020, Zoel started a collective known as Water Warriors United and it’s overarching organization Collective Medicine. Zoel is a boilermaker (welder) by trade and actor through passion and during COVID what started as a small project out his personal truck turned into providing hundreds of thousands of gallons of water to some of the most vulnerable members of the Diné community such as their elders. 

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Jo Anne Yazzie-Pioche

Jo Ann is the LeChee Chapter President in the Navajo Nation. Jo Ann is a rancher and retired geography teacher who has been working with the LeChee chapter throughout the entire pandemic. She worked alongside the Navajo Hopi Covid Organization and Sally Young Jooba Foundation to respond to the pandemic crisis. She is currently working to establish water infrastructure in the Nation.

Audio Transcript

 

**Sound of water droplets and wind** 

Chloe Rastatter: Welcome to Dignity Displaced, a podcast by Solidarity Engineering. And yes, we open today’s episode with the glorious sound of wind, because that’s one of the four elements that’s in abundance where today’s episode takes place, the Navajo Nation. A place within our own border which has an abundance of wind, but a scarcity of another fundamental element- water. In recognition of November being Native American heritage month, we decided to do an episode on the water crisis in the Navajo Nation. For all our listeners, my name is Chloe Rastatter, and I'm one of your hosts. I’m a field engineer and co-founder of the grassroots organization Solidarity Engineering, which is a humanitarian aid organization that's currently working at US/Mexico border. And this fall, two of my coworkers Siobhan Merrill and Wesley Shugart-Schmidt, who are working with us for a year through Villanova University, traveled to the Navajo Nation to help out Villanova with an assessment trip for a water project there. Now before we get too into today's story, I want to orient everyone a little bit. The Navajo Nation stretches 15 million 544 thousand and 500 acres and is spread across Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico. This area has been in drought since 1999 which is expected to continue for many more years. It's estimated that 30% of the population, yes 30%, does not have access to running water, meaning they have to drive and haul barrels to get water. To put this further into perspective a person living in the Navajo Nation, is 67 times more likely than other people in the rest of America to not have running water. We had Siobhan, who helped produce this episode join for intro. 

 

Siobhan Merrill: So, Wes and I joined Villanova’s College of Engineering for an engineering assessment trip to the Navajo Nation this past October. And Villanova’s College of Engineering has partnered with Alroy Billiman who is a rancher in Navajo, New Mexico, and is associated with the nonprofit Horses for Heroes. One of the biggest problems that Alroy and his family, as well as a lot of other ranchers and people in the area have faced within the past few years, is that water sources throughout the Navajo Nation have slowly been decreasing throughout all the land, and Villanova partnered with Alroy to kind of help assess the current water sources that he has access to, him and his family have access to, and then kind of try to figure out how Alroy and his family can use the existing water on their property or their land, and divert it throughout his ranch to all the areas that they need it to go to. And we just wanted to see overall how we could help them kind of deal with the current droughts that they're experiencing and have been experiencing for over 20 years. 

Chloe Rastatter: So, Wes and Siobhan’s trip is really what got us initially thinking about doing an episode in the Navajo Nation and their trip happened to coincide with the time that we were planning out our November episode. So, we thought since November is Native American heritage month, why not do an episode that highlights the water crisis that is happening and has been happening for generations within our own border. We're obviously a little late on hitting the November deadline. We had a particularly busy month here at the border which you can hear more about the at the end of the episode during our project updates- but basically this episode started as an idea about individual’s access to water in the Nation and then sort of morphed into this overarching narrative about all the glaring cracks in the system that became undeniably exposed by COVID. From the Diné people themselves who had to step up and are still stepping up. I mean we can all clearly remember how the lockdown of 2020 shook the entire country, but not quite in the same way that it did in the Navajo Nation. Covid created this lethal pandemic crisis within an already existing water crisis. So what happened as all of this was unfolding you know people were told to shelter in place in order to protect themselves and protect their community. A lot of the most vulnerable populations in the nation, like their elders, didn't have any water. So individual members of the nation had to step up and respond, and a lot of people did. So you hear from them today. Now throughout this episode, us producers do our best to try to avoid using the term “Navajo people” because that was the name given to the Diné people by Spanish colonizers whereas Diné in their own language means “the people” and keep in mind we're still learning how to pronounce it... 

Chloe Rastatter: Is it “Diné” is that, am I pronouncing it correctly? Diné people- like “D, I" 

 

Jo Ann Yazzie-Pioche: Diné 

Chloe Rastatter: Diné, Diné 

Jo Ann Yazzie-Pioche: Diné 

Chloe Rastatter: Diné 

Jo Ann Yazzie-Pioche: Diné, Diné 

Chloe Rastatter: Diné 

Jo Ann Yazzie-Pioche: Diné 

Chloe Rastatter: I'm sorry, I’m gunna try, Diné 

Chloe Rastatter: I just want to clarify I'm gunna sound like a white girl when I say this and if you could tell me the correct pronunciation of Diné, like instead of you know, the Diné people how do you say that word in Navajo  

Zoel Zani: It's pronounced Diné 

Chloe Rastatter: Diné, Diné 

Zoel Zani: Yeah 

Chloe Rastatter: Okay perfect, I was not sure  

Zoel Zani: With a sharp ending after the “E” and then the “E” has a hyphen over it which means it's kind of a little bit higher than a regular “E” sound. So Diné. 

Chloe Rastatter: Diné 

Siobhan Merrill: Something also I think is important to acknowledge throughout this episode is that I know myself and others also do refer to the word Navajo as well, in and don't use the word Diné unfortunately. We are all definitely working on making that transition but it's just important to acknowledge that our language does change and is used interchangeably, but we are aware that Diné is the appropriate title. 

Chloe Rastatter: So this episode is a bit of a change of pace from our border focused episodes, but we wanted to highlight a water problem that the indigenous people within our own border are facing- and, this isn’t a new problem. Generations and generations in the nation have faced lack of running water. But now the nation is over 20 years into a drought that isn't going to end soon, and they're recovering from being one of the hardest hit areas in the country by the pandemic, even though they had some of the swiftest and strongest COVID responses in the world. And so, without further ado, here's two stories from different leaders in the Navajo Nation who really stepped up, about their experiences and what they're doing to confront the growing problem they've been familiar with their whole lives. No water. But they're going about it in two pretty different ways- here's more. 

Act 1: Welder by Trade, Water Warrior Choice  

Chloe Rastatter: We talked to Zoel Zani, a Diné man who started a small immediate response water project out of his truck at the onset of the pandemic. And it kind of snowballed into something much larger. Here’s Zoel. 

Zoel Zani: my name is Zoel Zani, I am the founder director of collective medicine which is the nonprofit that initiated the Water Warriors United campaign. It started last year, I think it was April 28th I believe was the first time I went out and Water Warriors United was just basically me with a tank in the back of my truck hauling water to some elders near where I live on the Navajo Nation. And it kind of snowballed and grew and then that's where the collective medicine nonprofit came from. It's just vast, Navajo Nation's about as big as West Virginia. There's about 350 to 4000 people living there and I think, let’s see, two, there’s probably about five major towns, which relative to, to the reservation are big towns I’m in one right now called Tuba City. The population here is probably about 15,000 people but it's a big town you know by, by standards in comparison to all the places that we try to service. So it’s real hard for getting pipelines and water lines and power lines and things like that out into the middle of nowhere because a lot of times it's not justified the cost isn't justified because it may be one or two families you know 10/20 miles away from civilization or you know the last power line or the end of the power lines or the end of the water line and it's just nobody wants to pay the money to run the water lines all the way out there.  

So there's a lot of families that that's where their roots are you know that's where their great grandparents settled that's where their family was from before you know- the calvary and then you know the government showed up. So it’s really hard for people to just get up and leave you know a lot of people want to say well why don’t you just move. It runs a lot deeper than that so they'd rather be there where their history is, where their bloodline comes from than to just get up and move. You know, it makes it really easy when somebody can say that who doesn't understand that part of it all.  

So, we try to offer some quick solutions I guess with the Waterways United campaign it basically just started with taking water to people to keep them home, and then with money that came in I noticed that there were some families, elders that just had 5-gallon water buckets. They didn't have any large containers at all so that's where a lot of the money went. And then it went to buying 55-gallon water drums brand new. We bought a semi-truck load and we ended up delivering the water to the home and filling it on site, that way families would just be home and elders would just be home and they would be a little better taken care of.  

So, during the pandemic we, we delivered quite a bit. I think we delivered like almost 300 water barrels something like that to, oh man over 200 homes easily. I can't remember the gallon total, but it was close to 500, over 500 thousand gallons I believe. We were crazy busy, I was crazy busy, I had no idea it was gunna turn into that, but it was the pandemic, it was everybody you know everybody didn't know what was going on or what this virus was, and everybody was just trying to kind of run around and help out as they could. And for me being alone and out there and doing something was the best for me 'cause I was worried I didn't want to be in a large group with the you know the larger nonprofits that were doing supplying PPE drives and things like that. So it kind of worked out. 

Now we're hoping to get some tribal funding here hopefully soon. We put together with another organization a budget proposal and things like that to try to establish a water program in several communities near where I grew up. So, it's kind of it started out as just hauling water to people that needed it to try to help them stay clean and stay home, to kind of realizing all the holes and the flaws in the system and the people that fell through the cracks.  

I do contract work, I’m a union Boilermaker by trade so I do power plant maintenance pipe welding structural steel welding those kinds of things. So, during the pandemic I was on a job, and you know the numbers were rising and the pandemic was actually spreading more. This was as it was spreading to these areas where we were all living at when it was the first case, second case you know in New Mexico and things like that. And they started having layoffs, reduction and force layoffs, and manpower reduction layoff things like that. So, I got laid off and I was pretty upset but you know obviously in hindsight you kind of look back at the big picture and it's like well it, it was a blessing that it happened right when it did because after I got laid off then the pandemic then the virus hit the power plants I was working at and people were lost. And it wasn't taken as seriously as it should have and it was kept, it was kept quiet for a little while you know the company didn't want the public to know that you know it was there at the plant. Because they didn't wanna shut down the work because you know the shutdowns and the power turn arounds or the maintenance outages that we have, they cost the plant millions of dollars a day you know. So, to delay that you know was cutting into potential profits and revenue and things like that, so I got I got laid off right when it was obviously supposed to happen but right before it got bad where I was working so I'm I'm very thankful for that.  

And then with the water it was t social distancing part. I have very bad lungs, I’m missing part of a lung. I've had pneumonia multiple times, I just got over it like three weeks ago again. So, I knew already that anything, and I used to get bronchitis every year, so I knew every, every everything that was wrong with me as far as this being a respiratory virus and how bad it might hurt me and thing like that, so again I didn’t wanna be with a lot of people. So, it took about a week before I kind of figured out you know what to do and it just kind of struck me, just you know sitting in the house 'cause I quarantined for three weeks my son and I. We, we stayed home we didn't go anywhere. I went to Walmart like twice to get supplies before toilet paper went up the roof or through the roof and I was just home. It was really weird because every time, and this was the funny thing about being home, when I went out and I was driving down the street or the road you know I was home for so long and the house doing you know stuff that as the world was passing by at the speed of my vehicle it was really weird it felt kind of like going through space or flying, I had this real weird tunnel vision effect of like whoah, I’ve never felt like this before because I’ve never been home for 10 days straight you know inside doing nothing.  

But the water came from again back when I was a kid, we grew up without running water. There were sometimes where we had to move to the ranch to, we call it “Sheep Camp”, where the livestock were and there was no running water, no electricity out there and so we had to haul water from town which is about 20 miles away and we had to keep the animal livestock water separate from the drinking water. And that was back when you got spanked you know for doing wrong you got whooped for doing wrong, and if we ever mixed it or we accidentally put livestock water you know in the drinking water then we got whooped and we were made to clean it. Or if it was that bad then we had to recycle it, use it for livestock water from then on and then you know mom had to go out, but you know another $40-$50 water barrel which at that time you know obviously wasn't something we could just afford. So, when people were passing out drinking water in cases and in bottles, it was where individuals had to come to town to get it and then take it home. So, growing up the way that I did and knowing that they were there were several people still out there that couldn’t make it to town who still needed drinking water, didn't have running water, that kind of is when the light bulb went off. And I had just purchased the, my truck the previous November, and I had been you know without a truck for so long and it had always been so hard like man I just wish I had a truck. I don’t like to wish but you know you just kind of say it rhetorically. And, and I had a truck and I’m like what are you doing, I have a truck out here, it’s been sitting out here for three weeks and there’s all this stuff going on, people don’t know what’s happening. You know what can I do, what can I do. And I was sitting on the couch watching and looking at social media and seeing people doing the things that they were doing it just kind of went off, so that's kind of basically what all happened. 

So with the water warriors united campaign, it began as a campaign, of just you know hauling water to help people, if we can get grant funding and we can establish an actual annual budget, then it becomes a program, that's my goal and then to create a program that helps people in the most need and in the most efficient way is also the goal. But, on top of that goal, is also to bring in a staff and workforce that benefits from being able to be home. I traveled for 20 years welding and living out of hotels and eating fast food all the time and grocery shopping and packing my lunch and sleeping in my vehicle traveling across the country you know for three days just to get to a job. And in your 20s it's fun when you're young and you haven't really been anywhere it's fun, it’s great, you live it up but as you get older you know a lot of gentlemen and women have kids, they get married, they have to leave home it's not that they want to leave home. So with Water Warriors United, Collective Medicine, our wood campaign is called Sasquatch Fellowship, with things like that- my goal is to ultimately create a budget, a program, a organization that can provide employment for people who have lived that life who just want to be home closer to their family and their kids, who are willing to make you know a little bit less money for the exchange of being able to sleep in their own bed at night go to you know their own table for dinner and be with their wives and husbands and children you know. Cause to me that's a part of the growth and, and helping and nurturing that I hope Collective Medicine can be about, because it's not just you know about getting out there and helping people that need it, it's about helping people that you know are already building their lives that are already working hard to provide for their family and creating a work environment where they can be home, be on the “rez”, be in touch with their families, go to their kids basketball games on Thursday night. You know stuff like that and not have to just call for birthdays, you know call on the phone or now it's video chat. But I spent lot of times on nights on night shifts and day shifts, guys calling their kids ya know, happy birthday on the on the on the phone singing happy birthday on the phone and the whole break room sings happy birthday and things like that. So having gone through that life, I think that what I want, like a huge thing I hope for with Collective Medicine is to be able to create something where people can stay home and work. We won't be able to pay you with the journeyman wages that are available out there but again the internal benefits and the family benefits and the medical benefits and all that fun stuff too- I hope to create kind of helping people that way. 

I can't go too specifically into what’s happened in the past but I know we've given away water rights. I know we're trying to fight for certain water rights. I know we've created a slurry line of coal that runs from near where I grew up to California you know an underground slurry. So and that's used to you know we use our water to send that coal to wherever it's gone and I haven't dug too deep but I remember reading these issues in the paper and them becoming highly politicized. So for now, the water issues, I don't wanna speak on how much water is available where it's going, you know until I know for certain that I can back that stuff up with my own research, but as far as what I see with individuals that we've been helping, a lot of the water that is available isn't getting to where it needs to be and so for some immediate relief I think programs like ours and other nonprofits that are on the Navajo Nation are finding the best solutions, the best short term solutions. And they they, they, do there does need to be an actual budget for local governments to create these programs because some families will never leave, some families will never move, because again going back to what I mentioned before that's where they're from. You know that's where their grandparents raised them. We hear stories oh when I was a kid we used to take this wagon and see that rock way over there, we used to go way over there and see that sunrise and my dad and my sisters and I, it would take us all day and we come back we did it about every two weeks and we hear stories like that. And they'll never go anywhere you know and they’ll never get water pumped to their house because they're so far away. And to me, them just being as old as they are and making it through as much of this lifetime as they have is kind of its own reward. Like why should we have 20 sheets for them to fill out about you know employment history and where does their money come from and this and that I mean they’re old, they made it, they’re stronger than us, they need our help, they already did it for somebody you know their families are grown and living somewhere else. They have survived. So to me that that in itself is just like alright what do you need. So in the Navajo the word for grandma is * Diné for Grandmother* and word for grandfather is *Diné for Grandfather* so it’s like okay, what do you need, what can I help you alright what can I help you. And that's it that's that's what I want to hopefully create. Because you can go out there and you have to be there face to face with them to really get it. You can just have them come into the office and sit down and tell you what's going on, I mean you gotta go there. And that's where a lot of our tribal government officials are falling off because they're not there anymore. Now they're not out there there’s about one or two, and one that I know that happens almost repeatedly but on the larger level, and I get that you got business things to kind of attend to, but now I don't ever feel like anybody should lose touch with. So to me I guess the whole idea is to try to bring that help to those that need it as far as the water goes you know just to be able to help our elders that made it that far no questions asked and and have that support for them. Because it makes their day, it makes their lives so much easier, and it's just like well thank you, you know now I can mop the house, stuff like that. 

The ARPA, what is it- the American Repairs Program or something like that.  They, they the tribe got quite a bit of money for that, you know the Navajo tribe, and one of our hopes and one of the things that we have hoping to happen, is that we receive a sub award through some of those funds and that's what I'm hoping to create this program with because basically it's the way I see it is it's the federal government giving the tribe the money, the tribe handing another group the money, or basically the tribe handing us the money and basically saying okay here's your shot you know here's what here's here's what you asked for. Now show us that you can create it, now show us that you can do it. So we’ll basically be giving, be given this golden egg or this golden opportunity of you know what the dream was a year ago and so all we're kind of waiting for is for legislation which I guess now it takes forever as usual, but just kind of prepping for the process. We’ve had several meetings with all the other organizations involved and it's going to be a team effort it’s not just Water Warriors United but there's gonna be some other nonprofits and it won't just be water, but water will be our, our area. So, I'm thankful that you know obviously President Biden has done these things and I'm hoping that in the long term with further infrastructure reform, my biggest hope for the Navajo Nation is that we break up this monopoly that's across the Navajo Nation. To where one utility provider isn’t the only utility provider. I won’t get into that, or name names, or point fingers and all that stuff but that's basically how it's kind of gotten where it is. There's no free market, there's no competition. It's okay, this is the one company that's here and you deal with whatever they tell you deal with because there's no other company. So to me that's one of the first things that needs to change and when that changes then that generates the competition and that brings in obviously the free market or free trade or whatever you might want to call it, fair market I guess. So maybe that'll create some different water line systems, maybe it'll open up a lot more opportunities for people not only to work but to get help where it’s needed and change things. 

Act 2: A Problem for Years to Come 

Chloe Rastatter: In this act, you’ll hear from Jo Ann Yazzie-Pioche who is the chapter president of Lechee Chapter. As a leader of her chapter, Joanne had to figure out a lot during the pandemic, from a more institutional perspective. And although the vaccine has become widely available in the Nation, Joanne’s concerns about water haven’t exactly gone anywhere. Here’s Joanne.

 

Jo Ann Yazzie-Pioche: *Jo Ann introduces herself in Diné*

Jo Ann Yazzie-Pioche: I just explained my clan and where, in fact I’ll do it the English way. I am of the Blackstreet clan born of the towering house clan. The Deer Spring people are my maternal grandparents and then the Mexican people are my paternal. Those are the four clans that do introduce ourselves as we meet other elders and tell them about who we are. I am from White Domasa area which is called “With the grace of Anna” and I still do raise livestock in the area sheep and goats and that's what I did growing up and English being my second language Navajo was my first language. So that's a little bit about myself and I am a chapter official also. 

Some of the things that we face here in the Chee area any sort of plumbing stops like right here in the Chee which is, the Chee is 4 miles south of Page so within about five miles up Page along N-20 which is Navajo Route 20 is where the water is. There are some water that come from Kaibeto which is southeast of us but it doesn't go very far maybe I would say about two or three miles at the most and then some that's really all the water that we have. We are, the Navajo Nation is working on the western water project that we are trying to get water more from the lake and then Lake Pal. That will come from the NGS where that large amount of water had been coming in to run the power plant. Since the power plant closed that water is now with the last agreement some of that there was pumps were given to the Navajo Nation. So now we're we have engineers working on it to build water line that will first come to the Chee and then from there it will go further south. But we're talking millions and millions of dollars. So which was lacking, and finally this year we have finally you know we're able to get some of this work done, get started. But I don't think water is going to be flowing in that section maybe about two years out just because water projects take so long. And then we also have a water project that's coming from Kaibito which is southeast of here about 36 miles. That is where we have what we call the Horsethief Basin water project again that is more for drinking water not livestock or any of that nature. So that would be wonderful if all those projects do you know come forth in the future because right now the problem that our people face is the lack of water and so anybody that does not live in this community has to haul their drinking water. I grew up like that, we grew up about 10 miles south of here, we hauled water, but we also knew the value of it and how you don’t abuse it. But kids are kids we well if we could get away with it but you knew to take care of your water and how to stretch it out. So that's how majority of my generation that's how we grew up. And so, with lack of water, not showering every day wasn’t that big of an issue because there's just wasn't enough water. So some of the people still face that and this the hardest part are our elders and then people with medical needs and some of the areas that people that really were impacted by Covid are those that did not have running water, access to running water. So during the height of the pandemic last summer I was a vice president at the time, so we were having to some of U.S. officials my husband and I and others we hauled water to the people just because there was no water and they needed water, and we were very fortunate to have some donation of water tanks. Some water tanks were given, were donated to us which we gave to the people, set it up, and haul water and we would still go and check on them so often. And then there are people in our community that stepped up especially people that live over in that section of the what we called “Up Ishi” that's what it's called when they call it Mormon Ridge but when you do the translation of “Up Ishi” it's like Arrow Braided 'cause if you look at it from higher elevation it does look like it's a braid and it's like an arrow so that's the actual name of it up. Up there, there they are more people there than people that live in that area were willing to haul water for our elders and people that needed water. So people did come together and help us to in that sense and when the winter came we had you know again hauling some water but in the winter you have to be more careful with water because you can't leave it outside you will freeze. Growing up we knew like the evening we will have to bring in enough water to keep it inside so when you want to get some you can wash up with quick breakfasts so you know it was there things that you are learned and so people still follow these things and I'm sure you see it down in Mexico as well, where you're saying that you're working but there you're working with a large amount of people right. 

Chloe Rastatter: Yeah I mean water scarcity is a huge problem people value water I mean water is sacred and basically every culture for a reason you know water is life so I totally. 

 

Jo Ann Yazzie-Pioche: It is  

Chloe Rastatter: It is 100% life, and it deserves you know you need to take care of it nourish it, respect it. Yeah, water shortage is not something that is a casual fun thing. I just had like a few follow up questions based on that you know overarching introduction. So, they’re finally building some pipes and some infrastructure- where is this funding coming from? Is it coming from the government, or did is it an organization? Did the like people of the Nation kind of come together- where is those millions of dollars coming from? 

Jo Ann Yazzie-Pioche: Well, a lot of it was coming from the Navajo Nation itself a lot of it was funding which is the Sists I think it's the one that did fund some of it. But I think also which was really the frustrating part of it. When the Cares Act came out, it would have been so nice to put a lot of money into that, but the Cares Act was only funded for a certain amount of time and those things is like that was implemented there it needed to be running by the end of when December at the end of December 2021. That's just not feasible with a large project like that. So I think some of this money is also coming from ARPA now. So it's just we had reached out to congressman Ohalloran to help fund this and that hasn't come through yet but I think you know of course a lot of the money is coming from Washington like we say “Washington de Son Beso” that means from “Washington Beso” is money so that's where a lot of the funding and if that could we could get more because it's didn't in order to move this water further south it would be it will take more money. So that would be the future. 

Chloe Rastatter: Is there any indication or anything you've heard about with this big infrastructure bill that you know Joe Biden  put through the court the system is like $5.4 trillion or I don't know if that number’s right. Are you expecting to get any money to build the infrastructure for the water in the Navajo Nation from this or you don't know yet? 

Jo Ann Yazzie-Pioche: I don't know yet. Alot of those decisions are made at the central government. So we you know we, we get informed as things go. But a lot of it is at the central government. You hear talks of it I myself personally I would like to see a lot of it spent on water because we need water and especially with this climate change. We see Lake Pal is at its all-time low since it's fill. So those things it's like, and the sad part is we're finally going to have access to the water that we lived along all these years. I grew up along here. And then the climate changes. So a lot of us locals are saying well jeez what is it going to be when it's just a trickle down that we finally have access to, because it's going to take time to build those infrastructures to move those water. The same way with this Horsethief Basin that's where IHS, so that's government that’s funding a lot of it. So one of the challenges that we face as a chapter, as the leaders of our local community, is that we have to build bathroom additions.  Well, you know with the pandemic as it’s happened worldwide not many people want to work. In which you can't blame them they want to protect themselves. So we need to get some of that work done we're hoping under ARPA that we will get some of those buildings done under that. Either with NECA or NTUA. My understanding is that NECA does a lot of the water line construction so but there's such a need across to you know across the reservation we’re in three states. That's the challenge and you know it would be great to see all these things done but we know we're facing a big challenge you know. We have a certain amount of time to get these projects done so fingers crossed. 

Chloe Rastatter: Fingers crossed and so I read I think, I don't remember which article it was I read you know a bunch of articles about water in the Nation. Somewhere I read that it is 70 times more expensive to get for the individual to you know be leaving to get water in the Nation than it would be to just pipe it. Could you kind of talk about the health consequences and financial consequences of not having water? 

Jo Ann Yazzie-Pioche: Well you know you're right, because for people that live in the outlining area this could be a easily 60-70 miles round trip to go get water. That means the only place that a lot of people get water is here in the town of Page. So that people come in, in the summer you will see long lines, people trying to get water, and now to water, the filling station the water line breaks or something then there's no, there's no water. So people are looking and there are some places on the Nation like Intivicity, NTUA does have a water distribution center that people you go and you pay, you pay for the water. I think sometimes though I, I’m almost certain they close on weekends. So for long weekends where a lot of people come to Page and you'll see big trucks on, and you need a big truck. If you're going to haul a large amounts of water you need a big truck and those things costs gas and then now with the price of gas going up it's going to be a tough one, it's going to really be a hard winter for a lot of people. And we were able to get some like 5-gallon containers that we gave to, we gave four to each person which was donated through the tribe through the Nation. And so let's say there's a family of four they were able to get 16 of the water containers. So that's you know you can get water but again you need a reliable vehicle to come to town and fill up these water and then store ‘em till you need ‘em. But of course, people usually used the water very sparingly and you know for washing, cooking all those things. So people with livestock's are the ones that are having to get water more often like myself, we've really cut back and we’re shooting for minimalist, the smallest amount. Which some people without, without access to water- that's hard. And that's where the families have to help out. And which you know when you don't have no more livestock the problem is where are you going to get food because that is food too you know you, you eat the animals if you need it. But if you don't have anymore but you are very low social part of the very low social economics, then it's even harder. So those are lot of the challenges that face our people here on the Nation and it's, it's heartbreaking sometimes to see what we see, but we also know that we grew up that way. Where very little water or and food you just have to stretch it out. And we're so thankful when were little for commodity food you know they made not have been the best but you know it was food. So those are the challenges I think that face our people especially like I said lack of water is really the biggest challenges and water is life you know we can live without it for what four days after that we can’t survive. 

Chloe Rastatter: Obviously your people have been fighting this fight for generations. I mean you said yourself, your kids, your kids, and you know I'm sure your parents their parents so it’s a long fight. And so when the treaty was signed with the US government about the you know creating the Navajo Nation was there any talk about providing water or anything, or do you know? Or did the US government just completely fall through and not provide water? 'cause you would think that the government at some point would have promised it and now they're not they're not giving it to you. Why, what is the relationship between that? 

Jo Ann Yazzie-Pioche: Well I think there was some in the treaty however if you go and look at the some of the legislation laws that had been passed right after the treaty especially as support the Colorado River it was already there were things that were being passed by Congress to, to start getting more access to the water where we had an agreement that that expired two years ago. That one agreement was just unbelievable, and sometimes as people that we look at, its like what were those people thinking to agree to such a thing? But you have to remember that our, lot of our people were not educated at the time, and you went by what was interpreted to you. So if a person is not very honest as the interpreter guess what you don't hear the whole truth. So that's one of the challenges and now you know like for us for the longest time we didn't have access to the Colorado River. That there that, that agreement at 3720 is when the Navajo Nation have that water. Well 3720 is 5 feet above Glen Canyon dam so how we gonna ever have access to that water. And we lived along that river for, for ages. My families, my parents, my grandparents, talked about you know going down along the river and which rain down there because it was access to water and once the dam started filling up they all had to leave. And so now you know hopefully we will get better, better settlements in the towards in the future I know there's already talk about water rights settlement. It's ironic that here we are living along the river, we don't have no water rights here. And a lot of this Southern Indians like by Phoenix area they already have their water rights. So as a Nation we need to do better to make sure these elements do happen, and hopefully, hopefully not when it's too late.  

We always think, if we can pipe oil lines from the Canadian border to Texas- why not across the country? You know look at the Southeast where they get so much water, it could push it this way. That would be an ideal. Maybe in the future we’ll do such a thing. One of the things we’re seeing here with the climate change the biggest things that is really evident is we have a lot of juniper trees that are dying. They’re toward South of us here it’s the higher elevation and you can see it. It’s so sad and even where we ranch there are junipers that near us that are dying and it's just a sad sight to see. The other thing is that certain plants didn't come back we notice. And we're also noticing that lately, in fact my husband and I were talking about it 'cause I was telling him about this, we just we've seen very few rabbits. There used to be a lot of rabbits we don't see much of them, but we see more rodents. I don't know why it is well they live underground more so. Then very few snakes this summer which you know good or bad whichever but they are part of the ecosystem. And then and then some, we don't see as many coyotes as we used to out here, because being a livestock owner that's one of your predators. I have not seen a bobcat this year, so I think that climate change, all these things are even affecting the wildlife. It's, there's not enough water, you know, how you going to survive? We have, our family have gone out to different points and left water because we do get deer and some elk can do in the fall. But we had some in the summertime when I think this is kinda odd because they usually don't come at this time of the year. So we would leave water out. But that also means you have to haul water and you know refill it every so often. And my husband and I will haul water to our livestock and we would see lizards come running because they could hear water. So we would put little small lower level containers of water for them so they can drink because they're all thirsty as well. So we're seeing it in that sense, and I think that the climate change is here, and it is evident. We, I know that it was a lot of deniers but I don't know what, what more else that they need to see in order to realize that we are in a climate change. I know they’re saying that we're going to have warmer than warm winter that’s a concern too because warm winter means no snow and the Colorado Mountains, the Rockies is where the runoff comes through to Lake Pal and so even if we have it is this Southwest hopefully maybe there will be more snow so that we can at least get some some of the runoff up here in the spring, so lots of concern with that. 

 

Chloe Rastatter: Perfect finally, is there anything or any specific organization you would like to promote for anyone who listens to this. 

Jo Ann Yazzie-Pioche: Well I will definitely do a shoutout to Navajo Hopi Covid Organization because they did a lot through the pandemic. Saint Mary's Food Bank has also been really helpful. As a leader one of us some of us over in this western agency we had task force training that was put on by the National Guard and that was excellent training as how to deal with delivering food, making sure your sanitizing everything yourself. So you see those precautions have really helped us as we move forward to deliver things. You know making sure we sanitize everything. And it was a lot of work, but you know what. And also I'm thankful for that people in our community that stepped it up that were willing to help and we still all have to be careful social distance, mask, gloves, all these things that we needed to do. I know with our chapter they've been looking for masks people have been. And that's really starting to get a low you know not enough of it anymore . So if there's any organization out there willing to donate masks we definitely could utilize that. 

Chloe Rastatter: Perfect I'll definitely include them, and you know I can look at, we've gotten some mask donations before from organizations from like big companies, I can look at who's donated us and then send the names to you and you could reach out and maybe they would donate to you all as well. They, we go through thousands and thousands of masks on the Mexico side, so I understand the struggle for the donations for, for PPE. So I can send those companies to you and maybe they would donate to y'all as well. Well thank you so much for your time and like meeting with me and you know sharing this information. My heart goes out to yall and I will follow up with those mask donations. 

Jo Ann Yazzie-Pioche: Okay, and *thank you in Diné*, I just want to say *thank you in Diné*. For helping our people, the Mexican people, because they're, they’re “Mainelli's” like I said, and they are the people of the Americas so thank you for being kind and working with those people. 

 

Chloe Rastatter: Yeah, I think a lot of the people are lot of people in the US don't realize that the majority of the people at the border coming, they’re indigenous people to the Americas. They are, it's a very wide percentage of them are indigenous, and they get all clumped into one, thing but it's not true at all.  

Jo Ann Yazzie-Pioche: Well thank you for your kindness and your hard work down there helping the people  

Chloe Rastatter: You as well, you as well thank you for your work. Well it was nice meeting you and I will follow up in an email.  

Chloe Rastatter: And with that, thank you so much for listening to Dignity Displaced. You can find more information about our guests and their initiatives on our website solidarityengineering.org or our social media @solidarityengineering. You can also check out Zoel's organization directly at www.colledctivemedicine.net. One other organization Jo Ann asked me to shout out is the Sally Young Jooba Foundation, which is another great organization that she worked with throughout the pandemic. And so now we're at the end of our episode which means it's time for project updates. During the last week of November Solidarity Engineering turned 1 year old WOOO! And we also delivered our 100,000th liter of clean water to the informal refugee camp known as the Plaza in Reynosa, Mexico. That cat population is still growing despite there being no more physical room for tents so more and more people are sleeping out in the open air and since there's no formal government presence no one really knows the population of the Plaza. But it's grown to a point where we're providing 1,000 rolls of toilet paper and hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of pads every week to the bathroom, along with a wide variety of supplies to clean the bathrooms. Unfortunately, we're always behind meeting the need so donations are always really appreciated. And if you aren't familiar with what's happening here at the border, and why we need to buy so much toilet paper as an engineering organization, we recommend you listen to the last episode “Reynosa, One Camp Closes, Another One Opens”. In addition to the Plaza we have started construction on the laundry stations in the biggest shelter in Reynosa and are currently moving forward on designing water towers to gravity feed the WASH infrastructure we are constructing there. Additionally Erin Hughes and Christa Cook, two of the co-founders of Solidarity, went to Sierra Leone a few weeks ago with our medical partners Global Response Management to look into starting a public health focus project there. We ultimately decided that a project there is out of our current scope and capacity but we were able to make new connections in the WASH world which is always positive. Finally, to support this podcast and our work, please, please, please, subscribe to our Patreon, Solidarity Engineering. All proceeds from the Patreon go directly into our field projects and help provide really basic necessities like that 1,000 roles and increasing of toilet paper to the Plaza, and so, so much more. If you want to find more information about our podcasts or our work check out our website Solidarity Engineering and follow us on social media, @solidarityengineering. If you got something out of this podcast today, or you thought it was interesting, please subscribe to wherever you get podcasts, leave a nice review, and send it to a friend  'cause maybe they’ll listen to it too. This episode was produced by Chloe Rastatter, Christa Cook, Erin Hughes, and Siobhan Merrill, edited by Chloe Rastatter. Special thanks to Wesley Shugart-Schmidt for helping pull this episode together. Catch us next month, actually catch us later this month because we released the November episode in December so, catch us in a few weeks! 

 

Chloe Rastatter: People call us the water witches because we’re three women engineers, so water warriors and water witches.