Hopi and Navajo: Activism and Persistent Hope
Enduring hardship prior to and during the COVID-19 pandemic has shaped a hopeful perspective on its impact on people and Earth. Religious devotion to Mother Earth continues to catalyze some Hopi and Navajo to activism despite the effects of the pandemic .
Located in the Southwest region of the United States, the Navajo have struggled with food and water shortages for years, as well as limited access to healthcare (Gu). The pandemic has only exacerbated these issues, and furthermore, Native people have been disproportionately affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. In fact, Native communities have shown higher rates of infection as well as being 3.3 times more likely to be hospitalized due to the virus; yet, some people in the tribe are still able to find positivity amidst it all (Chatterjee).
Hope and Connection
In an interview titled, “What Hopi and Navajo Teachings Tell Us About Pandemics”, Shannon Francis describes her deep childhood connection with Earth, “We had no running water, we had no electricity. We had to use oil lamps and candles, and we had to bathe in the stream. But it didn't matter where we lived. Putting my hands in the soil felt good” (Francis). Francis always had Earth with her wherever she went. In the face of the pandemic, she continues to be comforted by her view of Earth. Francis said she views the pandemic as “a new beginning” to all people, and to Earth itself. She explains how the pandemic has allowed the restoration of the natural world, “Mother Earth is getting a break from humans - from mining, development, digging her up, you know, her soil, and so this is sort of a break for her. And the natural world is going to restore herself and really, you know, start the healing”(Francis). Though their religions aren’t identical in practice, the Hopi and Navajo tribes both share the view that everything is interrelated and has a purpose. Looking at the pandemic as a sign of healing instead of dwelling on the numerous hardships demonstrates the optimistic view held by some tribe members. Similarly, Joshua Allison-Burbank, a member of the Navajo nation who spent months working for the COVID care clinic run by Indian Health services, describes the pandemic as a period of time devoted to “taking care of each other as well as taking care of the land” (Chatterjee). Whereas many people struggled to find positivity during this dark time, the value of Mother Earth in the Hopi and Navajo religions has given several tribespeople a reason to see the bright side.
Some media coverage has portrayed the Hopi and Navajo as relentlessly optimistic, even during the pandemic (Francis, Chatterjee). Nonetheless, their activism has persisted. Much of the groundwater in the area is contaminated with arsenic, and drinking it poses serious health risks for the community. Despite the ongoing pandemic, Hopi Tribe Chairman Timothy Nuvangyaoma has continued to demand change, taking actions such as participating in virtual court hearings regarding the water rights of the tribe. “‘We have a lot of needs,’ Nuvangyaoma said. ‘I think we've been ignored for far too long. And we want to bring attention to some of the challenges that we face’” (James). Furthermore, the Hopi Tribe has put some of their federal coronavirus relief funds towards expanding clean water access to villages such as Oraibi. “Oraibi’s leaders recently decided to use coronavirus relief funds to drill a new well nearby and run a water line to a portion of the homes outside the historic heart of the village” (James).
While religion may provide solace to some Hopi and Navajo people, many continue to fight for change through the pandemic, as they believe there is still much progress to be made.
Chatterjee, Rhitu. “Hit Hard by Covid, Native Americans Come Together to Protect Families and Elders.” NPR. NPR, November 24, 2021. https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2021/11/24/1058675230/hit-hard-by-covid-native-americans-come-together-to-protect-families-and-elders.
Chavez, Frank B. “Differences between the Hopi, Zuni and Navajo.” Classroom. Leaf Group Ltd., December 6, 2017. https://classroom.synonym.com/differences-between-the-hopi-zuni-and-navajo-12084434.html.
Gu, Yaodong. “Covid-19 in Arizona: Native American Communities Hit Harder than Some States, Research Finds.” Cronkite News - Arizona PBS. Cronkite News, June 14, 2020. https://cronkitenews.azpbs.org/2020/06/12/covid-19-in-arizona-june-12/.
James, Ian. “'We Need Water to Survive': Hopi Tribe Pushes for Solutions in Long Struggle for Water.” AZ Central. Gannett, December 14, 2020. https://www.azcentral.com/in-depth/news/local/arizona-environment/2020/12/14/hopi-tribe-pushes-solutions-many-without-clean-drinking-water/3731341001/.
Lakhani, Nina. “Tribes without Clean Water Demand an End to Decades of US Government Neglect.” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, April 28, 2021. https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2021/apr/28/indigenous-americans-drinking-water-navajo-nation.
Simon, Scott. “What Hopi and Navajo Teachings Tell Us about Pandemics.” NPR. NPR, March 28, 2020. https://www.npr.org/2020/03/28/823071300/what-hopi-and-navajo-teachings- tell-us-about-pandemics.