New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham raised concerns in the past weeks about the “incredible spikes” in coronavirus cases in the Navajo Nation, which she feels could be detrimental to some tribal nations that are already living in vulnerable situations. According to NPR, after New York and New Jersey, the Navajo Nation has the highest coronavirus infection rate in the U.S.
Today, we want to shed some light on the harsh realities that families living in the Navajo Nation experience — and how our sponsorship program, volunteer coordinators, and special COVID-19 Fund are helping children and families in need in these unprecedented times.
Today, we want to shed some light on the harsh realities that families living in the Navajo Nation experience.
Understanding the Navajo Nation
The Navajo Nation is an American Indian territory that covers a large amount of land — over 17 million acres — and encompasses portions of northeastern Arizona, northwestern New Mexico, and southeastern Utah.
It also holds the famous Four Corners Monument, where one can stand on a quadripoint and be in four U.S. states — Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, and Colorado — at the same time. The adjacent Utah land is part of the Ute Mountain and Southern Ute Reservations.
The largest portion of the Navajo Nation lies within Arizona, where the Hopi Reservation is located and surrounded on all sides by the Navajo Reservation.
The Navajo Nation land in New Mexico is nicknamed the “Checkerboard” area because the federal government attempted to diversify Navajo lands with non-native lands. Thus, the Navajo lands in New Mexico are intermingled with fee lands, owned by both Navajo and non-Navajo, and federal and state areas under various jurisdictions. Additionally, there are three recognized groups of Navajos living in New Mexico outside of the regular reservation boundaries: the Ramah Navajo, the Alamo Navajo, and the Tohajiilee Navajo Reservations.
Abhorrent Poverty in the U.S.
The Navajo Nation is the largest American Indian tribe in the United States. While it makes up just 1.7% of the total U.S. population, it makes up 10.6% of the New Mexico population.
In New Mexico, 27% of Navajo households are headed by single mothers, and 8.4% of Navajo children are being raised by a grandparent. About 16% live in multi-generational households.
In January 2018, a reporter for the Navajo Times researched the well-being of women and children on the Navajo Nation and found that New Mexico children were at the top of the national list for poverty and food insecurity, and at the bottom for education and overall well-being. Per the report: “This financial insecurity within families leads to fewer opportunities for young people as well as a variety of health, cognitive, and emotional risk factors for children.”
The report also mentioned that “[c]hildren who grow up in poverty are also more likely to be food insecure, to suffer from adverse childhood experiences, like abuse and homelessness, and to live in poverty as adults.” It cited a National Institute of Justice study that found nearly half of Native American women reported domestic violence in the home. The research confirmed what many social scientists already knew — poverty, abuse, and insecurity drastically affect the well-being of children.
While infrastructure and utility services are improving slowly in the Navajo Nation, there is still a long way to go. Many roads are unpaved and are instead small dirt paths that contribute to isolation and lack of access to services. Access to the power grid is almost essential, yet there are still many families without it.
A May 2019 investigative report by NPR stated about 10% of Navajos on the reservation live without electricity, and almost 40% have to haul their water and use outhouses. More than a quarter of Navajos have experienced problems with electricity, the Internet, and the safety of their drinking water.
For many, finally getting access to the power grid can be life-changing. In the NPR report, families shared their gratefulness for being able to use nebulizers, and for their children having bright, clear lighting to study at night — as well as having the Internet. Families were also able to charge their phones and store food safely through refrigeration. One reporter shared seeing a group of teenagers in battered old cars in a hotel parking lot. They were clustered as close to the hotel as they could get so they could use the hotel’s Internet to complete some of their homework assignments.
While it is impossible to talk about the Navajo Nation without addressing poverty, it is important to stress there are many strengths of the native culture.
The strengths of children and their families
While it is impossible to talk about the Navajo Nation without addressing poverty, it is important to stress there are many strengths of the native culture. For example, many Navajo children can speak both their native language as well as English, and research shows that bi-lingual children can have better problem-solving skills than children who can speak just one language.
Another strength is their tie to their lands. While many other native peoples were moved from their ancestral lands, most of the Navajo people were able to maintain this vital connection.
Our Work to Help
We work with twelve affiliated projects in Arizona and nine in New Mexico to support children and their families in need. During the COVID-19 outbreak, we are providing support to our volunteer coordinators — thanks to donations from our sponsors and donors — who are providing meals to children who are out of school. Many of our coordinators are personally dropping off bags of food that include fruit, juice, sandwiches and other simple items that children eat for lunch and dinner.
We are incredibly grateful for these partnerships, and to our sponsors and donors who are providing crucial support at this time — and all year long.
How can I donate to the COVID-19 Response Fund?
We have created a COVID-19 Response Fund so that we can support children in crisis in the upcoming months. Donations will be used to provide food and emergency supplies to the children in our program who are in immediate need.