CH’ÍHOOTSOOÍ, DINÉTAH (Window Rock, Navajo Naton) (July 9, 2021) – Throughout the fall and winter months during the pandemic, the Navajo & Hopi Families COVID-19 Relief Fund provided wood and coal resources to Navajo and Hopi elders to help warm their homes.
Theresa Hatathlie, Relief Fund Logistics Coordinator, led the distribution of 148 tons of coal and 325 cords of wood for elders living on the Navajo and Hopi Nations through the Relief Fund’s Elder Heating Program.
“In fall 2020, there was uncertainty about the impacts that the Coronavirus would have on our lives. We heard that it would be worse when temperatures dropped because people would stay indoors,” Hatathlie said. “There were concerns that when people went out to shop, they would bring the virus home. That’s when we focused on providing heating assistance to our elders.”
During the pandemic, the Navajo Nation issued several public health orders requiring Navajo Nation residents to shelter in place. Subsequent public health orders shut down tribal government departments to barebones, essential-only operations, and implemented curfews.
Initially, wood hauling was prohibited but was later reconsidered to be essential with a permit.
According to Relief Fund Deputy Director Cassandra Begay, wood hauling presented the continued risk of people coming into close proximity with one another.
“Wood hauling presented potential impacts of increased exposure to our vulnerable elder population who rely on firewood,” Begay said. “We needed to mitigate this.”
Hatathlie started reaching out to tribal enterprises, county officials, and grassroots relief groups to try and find a solution. She made connections with Navajo Transitional Energy Company (NTEC) who had a community coal program already in place. At the time, NTEC faced obstacles in facilitating coal pick-up or delivery due to government and chapter office closures.
Through NTEC Community Relations Director, Jarvis Williams, Hathalie arranged the pickup and delivery of coal. Bear Construction Company from Tsaile transported the coal in belly dump trucks and flatbeds, and donated some of its services to contribute to the larger relief effort.
From this initial load, the Relief Fund was able to provide bags of coal to 500 households with elders in them in Chapters like Chinle, Wheatfields, Tsaile, Crystal, Red Valley, Sawmill, White Cone, Coal Mine Canyon, LeChee, Pinon, Steamboat, Rock Point, Blue Gap and the Hopi Village of Bacavi.
As coal distributions ended in March 2020, the program pursued an opportunity to access firewood harvested by Coconino County and stored at Schultz Pass.
Hatathlie worked on permitting with Neil Chapman, Forest Health Supervisor with the Flagstaff Fire Department, to arrange the initial haul of 200 cords of firewood.
Chapman said the Schultz Pass Firewood Project distribution plan prioritized partnerships that served a critical need for the firewood.
“We are so thankful to have connected with Theresa and the Relief Fund. Their efforts helped us achieve our goal significantly. Our distribution efforts were much more effective thanks to this partnership,” Chapman said.
Through the Schultz Pass Firewood Project, the Elder Heating Program was able to haul and distribute 325 cords of firewood.
Hatathlie coordinated firewood deliveries in tandem with Relief Fund food distributions, mainly across the Central and Western Agencies. She also enlisted the help of grassroots relief groups and non-governmental organizations like Chizh for Cheii from Gallup, NM, and AJ Meyers with the group Diné Bá’ádeit’į́- For the People.
“Many times we faced the issue of finding volunteers. This is when other organizations stepped up to help us with distributing the wood,” Hatathlie said.
The Relief Fund also partnered with Adopt-A-Native-Elder program in Salt Lake City, UT, to provide 300 Relief Fund PPE Kits to Navajo elders through caregivers in the Navajo-Utah areas of the Nation.
“It’s an honor to have helped facilitate the Relief Fund’s efforts to support the traditional Navajo elders that we all cherish,” said Linda Myers, Founder of the Adopt-A-Native-Elder program.
Although the Elder Heating Program served an immediate need in providing heating assistance, Navajo cultural teachings are such that home is where the fire is.
“Fire is symbolic from a spiritual standpoint. In our culture, we’re taught to use the fire in our home to feed our family. It molds our children’s minds so that they will always come home to the fire,” Hatathlie said. “During the pandemic, we found that kids came home and they needed warmth.”
Another teaching is T’áá hwó’ ají t’éego, which empowers individuals with the responsibility to get things done for themselves.
“If we are able and capable of doing something, then we don’t just stand and watch,” said Hatathlie. “When opportunity and ability come together, that’s where we need to be to make a difference.”
The Relief Fund thanks NTEC, Coconino National Forest, Sasha Stortz, Flagstaff Fire Department, Mr. and Mrs. Leroy Nez, Leupp Chapter House, Chinle Chapter staff, all Relief Fund staff and volunteers, the Hopi Foundation, the Adopt-A-Native-Elder program, Chizh for Cheii, Diné Bá’ádeit’į́, and Bear Construction Company.