Conversations with Diné Contacts

One major focus of Mission 2022 was ensuring that we facilitated open communication with the Diné for every aspect of this project. It was crucial to us to develop an understanding of the problem from the perspective of the Diné and then to be active in implementing their opinions in our approach to identifying priorities and investigating potential solutions.

Hearing the thoughts of those we contacted on the matter helped us gain a better understanding of the nature of their water security issues. Furthermore, the Diné feedback we received helped us consciously evaluate our proposed solutions to ensure that they were relevant to the community and sensitive to the Diné culture.

Mission 2022 would like to convey our deepest gratitude for all of the time our correspondents took to answer our emails and inform us about their culture, as well as their patience as we embarked on this journey to be as informed as possible about their culture. .

How did we initiate contact?

Diné Outreach Group – We decided to create a team of students that were responsible for contacting and communicating with as many Diné as possible (given our already established  Navajo contacts and available time). Furthermore, this group was tasked with passing on specific questions that solution groups may have encountered during their research and relaying responses from our Diné contacts back to the groups in question.

Regular calls and email correspondences – We attempted to establish stronger relationships with our Diné contacts by sending regular updates on the approach the class was taking to tackle water security issues. This frequent correspondence allowed us to receive comments, criticisms, and/or concerns, all of which helped us continuously evaluate our approach.

Who did we contact?

Our initial contacts were visitors from the Navajo Nation that were invited to the Terrascope class by the Class instructors, David McGee and Ari W Epstein. These Diné visitors provided us with crucial insights on Navajo culture and traditions, the nature of water security issues within the region, and current solution projects. These visitors included:

  • Professor Steven Chischilly: Steven Chischilly is an Assistant Professor of Environmental Science at Navajo Technical University.

  • Brandon Francis: Brandon Francis is a Research lab technician at NMSU Agricultural Science Center. He is also a Project Coordinator for the Earth Mother Agricultural Initiative that teaches Diné farmers permaculture and cool season growing techniques.

  • Karyn Denny: Ms. Denny currently works as a Legislative District Assistant (LDA) for Navajo Nation Delegate Amber Crotty. She monitors legislative initiatives that impacts Delegate Crotty’s 6 chapters and nearby communities (in Navajo Northern Agency) to ensure changes affecting her chapters accurately reflect effective administrative capacity.

  • Paige Belinte: Paige Belinte is a Diné artist and also co-owner of SugarBuffalo Skateboards – an Indigenous skateboarding company that empowers Indigenous Peoples to embrace their culture through the art of skateboarding. She is also a former cultural consultant & Navajo Food Technician for Navajo Agricultural Products Industry (NAPI).

  • Patricia Belinte: Patricia Belinte is a Diné Medicine Woman and Traditional Medicinal Herbalist who has worked many years in a variety of Navajo Nation positions (majority of the years spent as a social worker). She has and continues to work with a cultural exchange group out of Mancos Co, called Deer Hill Expeditions for Diné community outreach.

  • Ernest Peyketewa: Ernest Peyketewa is a medicine man who is familiar with Hopi, Zuni and Navajo traditions, and he has particular interest in the waters in and near the Grand Canyon, sacred water-related pilgrimage sites and indigenous history. He is also a Vietnam veteran, a trained EMT and a former fire captain.

  • LeVon Thomas: LeVon Thomas is a MIT graduate and Navajo Nation resident. After graduating from MIT and returning to the reservation, he started Bear Construction LLC to create jobs on the reservation and engage with green energy technologies. He also sits on the Navajo Nation Green Economy Commission.

  • Emma Robbins: Emma Robbins grew up on the Navajo Reservation and is currently the American Projects Director for Dig Deep. With Dig Deep, she runs 5 projects for the Navajo Water Project, collaborating with communities and schools to develop increased water security.

We later contacted and frequently communicated with students from the Navajo Technical University in Crownpoint, New Mexico.

We maintained correspondence with the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority (NTUA), a non-governmental organization (NGO).

What did we learn?

The conversations with we had with members of the Diné community gave us deeper insight into the previous and current cultural context and a better understanding of the water crisis in Navajo. The amount of valuable information that we gathered from these discussions is lengthy and is implemented on other pages of this website.

Below is a short summary of key takeaways that played decisive roles in the approach we took towards proposing solutions to the issues of water security in the Navajo nation:

  • Different Perspectives, United Concerns: After talking with some members of the Diné community, we found that there was a spectrum of diverse perspectives on water security throughout the Navajo Nation. While we recognize that we were unable to capture all the varying opinions on the matter, each Diné perspective we heard gave us insight into the various viewpoints some Diné held regarding the Navajo Nation government, the federal government, and organizations involved in water security. We also realized that there were varying perspectives on water in the Navajo Nation and how to meet the priorities they identified, including contamination of water, access to water, communication within the Navajo Nation and with the federal government, and meeting their needs with current available resources. A traditionalist Diné holds culture to be central to their way of life and at the heart of that culture is often a deep appreciation and respect for water that may be very different from the younger generations of Diné who may value access to potable water more than its cultural importance. No matter the perspective, however, many agreed upon the need to resolve and meet the listed priorities.
  • Location: A call with Navajo Tech University students helped us comprehend that the issue of water security is not only complex but is also disparate across agencies within the Navajo Nation. While water source contamination is a widespread issue, it is especially exacerbated by abandoned uranium mines in the Eastern and Northern agencies. The Western agency, facing similar issues of arsenic and uranium contamination, also experiences the problem of aquifer depletion and poor access to water sources. Understanding the different types of water security issues helped the Terrascope class narrow its research to investigate appropriate water filtration, collection and storage technology that can be applied to various affected areas in the region. Recognizing that the issues are disparate across agencies also helped us select the Bodaway chapter as the groups’ case study.

  • Priorities of water provision and potential agricultural prospects: We also learned from discussions with the Navajo Technical University students and professors that, in their opinions, improving the clean water-access of residential areas would be of more value than increasing the water access solely for agricultural purposes. This is why most of the solutions we chose to focus on are very home-biased and might not be entirely suitable for implementation in large farms. However, we still took into consideration that subsistence farming is a common means of providing homes with their daily meal. Thus, there would be need in the near future to focus on the provision, preservation, and improvement of the quality of water in agriculture. Taking  the importance of agriculture into consideration led to discussions of the potentials of dry farming, bioswales and traditional farming techniques.

  • The role of current infrastructure: These discussions made us aware of the presence of windmills on the Navajo reservation that are currently used for the sole purpose of pumping water. We thereafter began to consider their potential use for simultaneously generating electricity (to power filtration machines) as well as pumping the purified water into homes.

Communicating with various Diné groups and individuals guided our research in this mission, helping us further understand the merits of potential solutions for water security in this region. However, we also recognize that we were only able to acquire a small number of opinions, and these do not necessarily reflect the perspectives of the people of the Navajo Nation in its entirety. Thus, while our solutions may not take into account all perspectives, we do hope that our interactions with some members of the Diné community have guided us in formulating feasible solutions which could be implemented in the Navajo Nation.