As Navajo COVID-19 cases intensify, Jason Momoa joins efforts to address water crisis

Pictured: Volunteers with Navajo & Hopi Families COVID-19 Relief unload water donated by Jason Momoa.(Photo: Deidra Peaches)

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A truck carrying 28 pallets with 1,540 cases of water was sent by Momoa to Tuba City last week

News Release

Indigenous Environmental Network

As COVID-19 cases on the Navajo Nation reach 1,042 with 41 deaths, the Navajo & Hopi Families COVID-19 Relief Fund is building momentum to address a food and water crisis in the area with support from actor Jason Momoa. A massive truck carrying 28 pallets with 1,540 cases of water was sent by Momoa to Tó naneesdizí (Tuba City) on Tuesday.

A group of volunteers led by Lt. Robbin Preston, Tuba City Distribution Team Leader for the Navajo & Hopi Families COVID-19 Relief Effort, unloaded the donation and prepared it for immediate distribution throughout the crisis-stricken area. "Water is life and shapes lives and the earth; it’s the power we draw life from," said Lt. Preston.  

Momoa, who is Native Hawaiian, heard about the Relief Fund through an article and offered a large donation of water through his company, Mananalu Pure Water, which is an effort to end single-use plastic drinking bottles and their devastating impacts on the environment. According to the company’s website Mananalu means “a powerful wave of the sacred spirit of life.”

Can’d Aid, a Colorado based non-profit, shipped 48,000 cans of water for relief efforts last week.

“Access to clean water is a necessity while our communities are urged to shelter in place.” said Ethel Branch, Relief Fund Founder and Arizona Co-Lead. “We are extremely grateful for all of the amazing support in our efforts to ensure families have enough food and water to sustain themselves through this crisis. Whether it’s one truckload brought by a community member or these incredible donations from Jason Momoa’s Mananalu Pure Water company and Can’d Aid, every contribution is extremely important and amplifies our goal of working together to help our precious elders and those most vulnerable in this time of crisis.” 

With more than 30 percent of the 180,000 residents on the Navajo reservation having little to no access to running water or electricity, and 3 of the 12 Hopi Villages largely without running water or electricity, the COVID-19 pandemic has intensified a decades-long infrastructure crisis. One-third of Navajo and Hopi families in this area must travel miles to haul water, while only 16 grocery stores and small food markets serve the entire area.

"Access to water is a human right that has been denied our people for far too long,” said Janene Yazzie, New Mexico Lead. “Now we are dealing with the repercussions of that and it’s costing the lives of our precious loved ones. As we grapple with this epidemic we will not lose sight of the need to have this basic human right fulfilled and our responsibility to protect our sacred waters for food sovereignty and water security for future generations."

In addition to limited access to water resources, the region is plagued with 523 abandoned uranium mine claims on or near the Navajo Nation, including 609 mine sites and 1,265 mine features, such as waste piles and mine openings. These mines and related sites have contributed to severe rates of cancer and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has identified 22 wells on Navajo Nation as exceeding safe drinking water standards due to high levels of radioactive contamination. Some Hopi Villages have drinking water that is three times the legal limit for arsenic. For more than forty years Navajo and Hopi springs and wells on Black Mesa were impacted by coal mining operations. Today many of these springs and wells have dried up. Some 1.2 billion gallons of clean drinking water a year were pumped from the precious N-Aquifer and used for mining operations. Even with the mine shutdown, families in the region continue to face water scarcity. Additionally, the Navajo Nation is also still recovering from the 2015 Gold King Mine spill where Environmental Protection Agency contractors released more than 3 million gallons of mine waste into waterways that Diné families rely upon to practice traditional lifeways by irrigating their fields and watering their livestock.

The Navajo Nation is expected to become one of the top three hot spots in the country per-capita for COVID-19 cases. The Navajo Nation is about the size of the state of West Virginia, yet while West Virginia has a population of 1.8 million, the Navajo Nation has 1/10th its population and has 200 more COVID-19 cases. Huffington Post reports that the number of COVID-19 cases on the Nation “surged 367% in two weeks.”

“In many homes on the reservation, there are multi-generational families that live there. The virus is attacking this important family unit by spreading among entire families who cannot isolate from each other,” said Jessica Stago, Water Coordinator for the Relief Effort. “Providing food and water for these families is essential to an effective strategy to stop this pandemic in our communities.” 

With these water donations, the Navajo & Hopi Families COVID-19 Relief Effort will be able to include water in their food baskets, which already provide enough food to last receiving households two weeks. So far the effort has served over 1500 families in almost 40 communities on the Navajo Nation and in 4 of the 12 Villages on Hopi. Through collaboration with their fiscal sponsor, the Rural Utah Project, and Bluff Area Mutual Aid volunteers, the Relief Effort has been able to serve an additional 342 families (1,450 people) in Utah communities. The Relief Effort now has full access to its over $700,000 in GoFundMe dollars, which has enabled it to deliver almost $100,000 in food, cleaning, and PPE supplies to locations all throughout the Navajo Nation this week. This week they also sent a pallet of water donated by Home Depot in Flagstaff to Hard Rock, one of the new COVID-19 hotspots, for distribution to families that live in remote areas with no running water.

“With our sacred waterways polluted and our wells contaminated by uranium or drained by coal mining, we have had our immune systems continuously attacked through degradation and poisoning of our Mother Earth,” said Kim Smith, Northern Agency Lead. “But just as our bodies have natural defenses to fight diseases, we have been fighting here in ceremony and prayer to ensure our ways of life are protected for coming generations. Right now, staying home, social distancing, wearing masks, washing our hands, and safely and responsibly contributing to relief work is our way to keep walking in beauty.”

Please visit our website to donate and for additional resources including volunteer & support request forms:

Diné and Hopi residents can also call toll-free to request support: 1-833-956-1554.

About Indigenous Environmental Network

Established in 1990, The Indigenous Environmental Network is an international environmental justice nonprofit that works with tribal grassroots organizations to build the capacity of Indigenous communities. Indigenous Environmental Network’s activities include empowering Indigenous communities and tribal governments to develop mechanisms to protect our sacred sites, land, water, air, natural resources, the health of both our people and all living things, and to build economically sustainable communities. 

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