Last Friday, a coalition of nonprofit organizations worked together to deliver a truckload of firewood to Navajo elders in the Rock Point, Arizona, area. This was the fourth delivery in a series of similar actions over the past few weeks. 

Among those helping with the delivery were members of Fundamental Needs, an organization based in Cortez, Colorado, that’s dedicated to remedying the severe circumstances currently impacting communities living within the Navajo Reservation.

Members of Fundamental Needs write about having grown up on the Navajo Reservation, and they want do their part in creating positive change. 

“Fundamental Needs was formed to combat the inequalities caused by oversight and neglect,” the organization states on its website. “The founders of Fundamental Needs have all experienced or seen first hand how desperate some of the situations are.  Communities have faced restricted water supply, food insecurity, and poverty due to years of mistreatment of both the land and its inhabitants.”

In addition to delivering firewood, Fundamental Needs wants to assist families living on the Navajo Reservation with their energy needs by installing green electrical systems, including solar panels.

“Fundamental Needs goes into communities with questions, not solutions. Instead of coming with a one size fits all solution, we ask communities what it is they need most and start to develop our plans from there,” wrote Justice Ramos, a founding member of the organization. “Basically, we help provide access to water, electricity, food, education, livable housing, and various other needs.”

According to the Navajo Water Project, one in three of the Navajo Reservation’s population do not have access to clean running water. The U.S. government excluded the Navajo Nation from the 1922 Colorado River Compact, which initially decided how much water from the Colorado River individual U.S. states were entitled to.

Additionally, U.S. mining companies used Navajo land for uranium mining during the Cold War, which contaminated existing water on the reservation. This pollution has been linked to many Navajo people dying from kidney failure or cancer, according to NPR.

The Navajo Nation has had to fight numerous legal battles against the surrounding U.S. States in order to get its own share of potable water, according to the Verge.

“In some cases, such as in the community of Oljato on the Arizona-Utah border, a single spigot on a desolate road, miles from any residence, serves 900 people,” Navajo Nation president Jonathan Nez said in a testimony to the House Natural Resources Committee in June 2019.

This public health crisis has only exacerbated the COVID-19 pandemic within the Navajo Reservation. The inaccessibility of running water has made it much more difficult for families to wash their hands.

One project organized by Fundamental Needs hopes to build off-grid water systems in order to combat this severe inequity. Three of these complex systems have already been deployed, according to Ramos.

A mockup of the purifying sink units used by Fundamental Needs.

In addition to this, Fundamental Needs also has made efforts to provide educational resources, in collaboration with the University of Arizona. This project, titled “Project Educate,” is intended to open up online and in-person classes on a variety of subjects, including agriculture, community food systems, and financial literacy.

Additionally, Fundamental Needs has committed to supporting families living on the Navajo Reservation by selling their handcrafted goods via the Fundamental Needs website. 

“With covid shutting down the local markets these families have been left out to dry,” they write. “We want to help support these families by selling their goods on our site. This is a unique opportunity to help families and to help support our cause at the same time.”

Members of Fundamental Needs have big plans for the future, as well, according to Justice Ramos.

“We also intend to build two large community greenhouses, farmer’s markets, and assist with individual farms and gardens,” Ramos wrote. “Lastly, we have already started to hire locals from the Navajo Reservation to assist with the project.”