WINDOW ROCK, AZ — Living on 2,700 acres of land that spans through three western states and nine counties - the Navajo Nation thrives on its culture, traditions, and community.
To date, 838 tribe members have tested positive for COVID-19 and 33 members have died.
"It's like we're at standstill now," said Robertson Tosie, who lives on the reservation. "I think it caught us by surprise cause I don't think anyone was really ready for something with this type of magnitude."
Arizona is home to the largest population of Navajo Nation members. The nation is struggling to find balance with a stay-at-home order, curfews, and major closures in place to keep the virus from spreading.
"Before, I think people took it for granted," added Tosie. "Now, it's like every little thing, even water, is precious."
The nation has been forced to close Chapter houses that provide food and other resources to families who live on the reservation. It's a loss for the community amid a shortage of basic goods throughout the nation.
“It’s just kind of hard that their small convenience store doesn’t pack the things they need so they have to actually travel these long distances," said photographer W. Dean Howard, who traveled to several eastern chapters of the Navajo Nation to capture the reality of the struggling tribe since facing the peak of the outbreak. "They’re taking it more serious out there than we are here.”
Howard has been traveling to several villages including Cove, Sweetwater, and Red Mesa.
"The roads were empty, they really were. Places where you would normally see people, they weren’t there," he said of the rural communities. "I would say that’s why maybe they shouldn’t have been affected, because they are so secluded, but no, this thing really just ran wild within the tribe. “
Tribe members share their thoughts and concerns with Howard, including worry for their elderly population and youth who have little access to information and online education with poor cell service and internet connection.
"It’s hard for them to get online and do their homework or do their online classes," he said.
Members like Tosie say the nation was unprepared for a health crisis, but hope their efforts to combat it now will reduce the spreads and both positive cases and deaths will start to decline as a result.