January 17, 2017

Earth Day Comes Early To the Navajo Nation

Although Earth Day won’t be celebrated until April 22nd, the dedication and blessing of the Eastern Navajo Waterline at Counselor, New Mexico earlier this week epitomized the very essence of what Senator Gaylord Nelson envisioned 40 years ago when he established the first celebration of what eventually become known as Earth Day around the world.

Just looking at 55 gallon drums sitting in the truck beds parked at the Counselor Chapter House makes you realize there are thousands of people living on the Navajo Nation without basic water service who must haul water to their homes.

Many people from the eight Navajo Chapters that will receive water from the new water line celebrated its construction at the dedication and blessing event at the Counselor Chapter House.  When completed, the water line will stretch 70 miles and have a major impact on thousands of lives.

Our fellow citizens driving those pickup trucks will no longer have to travel for miles to fill-up their drums with safe, clean water – that precious resource that is fundamental to a sustainable quality of life and good health. The hauling of water, a way of life for numerous generations of the Navajo people, is hopefully coming to an end.

As I stood there and heard Earl Herrera the Hataalii (medicine man) softly chant his prayer blessing the new water supply system I was pleased knowing that USDA Rural Development provided $8.7 million in funding to build this water system.  That we have paved the way for a better quality of life for generations to come is certainly inspiring and reminds us of our responsibility to meet our commitments to tribal nations to provide assistance when needed to our citizens who have historically faced tremendous challenges.

And noting the type of collaboration that is necessary in our remote rural areas, special recognition was given to our partners who provided additional funding to bring the $28.6 million construction of the water supply system to fruition:  The State of New Mexico, the Navajo Nation, the Indian Health Services and the eight Navajo Chapters that will receive the water.

Especially inspiring was to hear firsthand from the children of the area who told us what it meant to eventually have water flowing to their homes and how now they can live like other people who have water piped to their homes.

I believe that this year’s Earth Day celebration was of special significance for the USDA and the eight eastern Navajo Chapters.  We recognized that our tribal and federal governments share in our desire to be effective stewards of our natural resources on behalf of the people we serve.  In my discussions with tribal members I realized that the Navajo people have a special appreciation for our air, land and water that we all can learn from.

Making a living in the harsh desert lands of the Navajo Nation can seem insurmountable.  Understanding those challenges, our celebration focused on the determination of a people, the importance of collaboration and a reminder of a 40 year-old vision for the Earth that still promotes mankind working with--not against--the environment.