Group steps in to help rural Navajo Nation communities with access to running water

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Posted at 7:00 PM, Aug 12, 2020
and last updated 2020-08-13 08:55:41-04

WINDOW ROCK, AZ — Arizona's rocky terrain is even more rugged on the Navajo Nation. But that's not stopping Justin Slinkey from getting out on the open road and doing his errands.

"That's what keeps me busy," Slinkey explains.

Even after a devastating car accident, where doctors weren't sure he'd ever walk again, Slinkey keeps going. When we met him, he was filling up water tanks at an area water well -- something many Navajo residents have to do.

READ MORE: Doctors faced with unique challenges battling COVID-19 on Navajo Nation

As many as 40 percent of people on the Navajo Nation don't have access to running water. That means they have to come to wells and fill up large storage containers. That's basically their only option and if not, their houses run dry.

Slinkey is one of the lucky ones. Not everyone can leave their homes, like Jeane Bighorse, who lives about 10 miles from Tuba City.

At her home, there are backyard views of the Grand Canyon, dozens of sheep, and blue sky for miles.

But at Bighorse Ranch, there is no running water and no indoor plumbing.

"Since I've lived here all my life, I get used to it," explains Bighorse.

Up until last year, Bighorse was hauling her own water. Her husband had open heart surgery and now walks with a cane. Now, since neither one is able to get it, she depends on her children to help out.

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But now, she doesn't have to, thanks to Collective Medicine and their campaign Water Warriors United.

So far, they've donated more than 600 barrels of water to elders all across the Navajo Nation.

"I noticed nobody was actually hauling water to our elders," explains Zoel Zohnnie, the mastermind by this endeavor.

"They have a hard time getting drinking water if they live in remote areas. A lot of our aunties don’t have pick-up trucks. A lot of our elders don’t have working vehicles, so they have to depend on other relatives or government officials."

READ MORE: President Jonathan Nez: Navajo Nation 'can't let up' on COVID-19 measures

But Zohnnie is changing that. He and his colleagues say they will continue to serve these rural communities until there is no longer a need.

"People pray for answers and help and hope, and this is one way that I believe God helps to answer those prayers."

For more information and how to donate, click here.

This is the fourth in a week-long series of special reports from the Navajo Nation. Join us on ABC15 Mornings all week to see our complete coverage.