Missing and Murdered Diné Relatives Initiative

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59373819_10214045640350639_2621095623079755776_n#TeamYKD has always, and will always, support the cause to protect indigenous people from exploitation, misrepresentation, under representation, and extinction. The current state of affairs has placed us at the center of an epidemic that has resulted in countless individuals being kidnapped and/or murdered. Too many of our relatives have been lost and we’re making a stand – along with many other community partners, advocates, and leaders – to say NO MORE! THIS HAS TO STOP! WE NEED TO WORK TOGETHER TO PUT AN END TO THIS PROBLEM!

In May 2019, we joined Council Delegate Amber Kanasbah-Crotty, former Navajo Nation Vice President Rex Lee Jim, and Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez to discuss what actions can be taken to shift the trajectory, slow down the rate at which people are going missing or losing their lives, target interventions, and take precautionary measures to prevent more people from becoming victims to violent crime.  It was during that meeting that we decided, as a group, to host public forums all across the Navajo Nation – to bring awareness to the issue, but also to empower the people who have been directly effected. The Missing and Murdered Diné Relatives initiatives was formalized around that same time with community partners, and we organized and united around this issue to seek out sustainable, effective, long-term solutions that will put an end to problem that is tearing apart our homes and homeland.

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Diné College was chosen to host the first #MMDR Forum, a 2-day community forum open to the public at the Shiprock South Campus in the John Pinto Library. Registration is FREE & can be submitted via Eventbrite at: http://bit.ly/2KqYvK4

The forum will introduce the community organizers & contributors that are working together to develop a data institute to address our Missing and Murdered Diné Relatives (MMDR). The intent of the forum is to actively engage attendees in the process of creating a framework for the institute, as well as, provide a space for the families of missing and murdered relatives who are still searching for their loved ones, or are grieving the loss of their loved ones. The goal is JUSTICE and HEALING. And, #TeamYKD is proud to be a part of this collaboration as organizers and members of the MMDR Executive Team.

Also, in an interesting pivot related to #MMDR, Adrian and Kelsey Marie Lee of Navajo Tea Time recently weighed in on #MMIW #MMIWG #MMDR issues our people are facing on their YouTube channel. True to the name of the channel, they voice some unpopular opinions, and share some of their own stories. So, if you have 30 minutes to spare, give it a view.

Change Makers: Native entrepreneurs on the Navajo Nation

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This week, Arizona Public Media published a video segment on Change Makers, native entrepreneurs on the Navajo Nation; and #TeamYKD’s contributions to Change Labs, the #IamTheNavajoEconomy campaign, and the Native American Business Incubator Network’s cohort of entrepreneurs were included. The majority of the photos shown in the segment were taken by Adrian herself, which is really cool to see! But, most importantly, this video shows that amazing things are happening on the Navajo Nation today. During this critical time, Navajo and Hopi are transitioning away from their long dependance on mineral extraction to fuel their local economies. And while some are devastated by the Navajo Nation leadership’s decision to shut down Navajo Generating Station to seek out new ventures, not everyone is interpreting this shift as detrimental to our health and wealth. In fact, there is a lot of support from Navajo people who understand the cultural and socio-economic implications of NGS and other mining operations.

For example, Emery Denny, the son of Navajo hataali, Avery Denny, wrote an amazing response this week, saying “I for one am encouraged. We will never know the full toll we paid for that mine. The pain and suffering, the depression, the anxiety, alcoholism, suicide that resulted from relocation at gun point. How many Iives were lost due to health problems related to the mine? How many ceremonies were lost because families were relocated? That mine was a monster killing our people while making non-Navajos rich. In the spirit of our ancestors, those delegates used their votes like lightning arrows and slayed that monster that was killing our people. We have relived our traditional stories of being monster slayers. Not many tribes have had the same success we have had in fighting dirty energy. We should be encouraged that our faith saw us through, that our prayers were answered, though it took time. This is where sovereignty starts, by exerting our own ideals, our own people, our own principles, our own voice over big money and evil powers we can not see. We are still monster slayers, we are still here and we will over come the next monsters the U.S. Federal and State government throw our way. We are Diné, Diné niidlí.”

Native entrepreneurs are smart, talented, and have a lot of offer their communities. The work Jessica Stago and Heather Fleming are doing to encourage and support small business development is exactly what is needed during this time of great change. Our people now have this opportunity to embrace autonomy & sovereignty. Rather than living in fear, rather than raising our voices to tear each other apart, we can – and should – empower ourselves to move forward with new solutions & launch projects that serve our best interests – not outside interests.

In all the time uranium & coal mining operations were running, unemployment rates were high, and over 16,000 homes remained un-electrified & without running water. People were living in poverty conditions, and NGS was not addressing the problem. Supporters of NGS like to frame the company as a major source of income for the majority of Navajo people, but that just isn’t the truth. The majority of the money (and power) brought in by NGS was going elsewhere, not to Navajo communities or to Navajo infrastructure. While working in the solar industry, Adrian and her colleagues did dozens of solar installs in homes located directly under large power lines that run electricity to Phoenix, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, etc… Those people living off-grid were not benefiting from NGS operations. Further, a large majority of those families were displaced and relocated because of mining operations, and they suffer from health problems directly related to resource extraction. To them, NGS was not a solution, but rather a source of their problems.

We can tell you from all the years we’ve spent working with NABIN (now Change Labs) that the best way to grow our local economies is to diversify – and support entrepreneurship & small business development. By supporting ventures that benefit our communities, we strengthen ourselves, our neighbors, our families & our nation. It’s a big conversation that needs to continue. All in all, we remain optimistic. #TeamYKD is hopeful & proud of our current leadership for having the courage to make this tough decision. Indigenous people have so much to offer the world. Our traditions and cultures are so rich, and so full of applicable knowledge that we can use to grow our health & our wealth. Jessica Stago stated it so well in the video, saying “Our culture doesn’t limit us, it actually is what we need to survive and to do more than survive, to be successful!”

Thank you, Vanessa Barchfield, Andrew Brown, Martin Rubio, Mitchell Riley, and Arizona Illustrated for your great work on this piece. Ahxe’hee!

Breaking Dependency: Economic Innovation and the Future of the Navajo Economy

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#TeamYKD ventured to Cartagena de Indias in Colombia to present at the 2019 Business History Conference this month. It was an AMAZING experience! The conference was held in El Laguito at the Hilton, and there we met some of the great up-and-coming minds from around the world. Our contribution was to the Business and Indigenous History panel. I (Adrian) presented our paper, titled ‘Breaking Dependency: Economic Innovation and the Future of the Navajo Economy’; and Michael sat as Chair and Discussant for the panel. 

We were recently asked to submit the paper to an academic journal. So, because it is in the review process, it is not readily available, but here is the ABSTRACT, for those who are interested: How can merging culture and innovation grow an economy currently dependent on resource extraction? In many ways the contemporary Navajo economy is linked to and bolstered by resource extraction. Oil, coal, uranium and underground aquifers are valuable natural resources sought after by outside businesses. The majority of the profit made by these businesses leave the Navajo Nation. Big cities like Los Angeles and Las Vegas reap the benefits, while more than 16,000 homes on the Navajo Nation don’t have access to electricity or running water. The cost the Navajo people pay to support unsustainable cities is unreasonably high. Health problems directly linked to uranium contamination is just one example of how the Navajo people pay with their lives and their future. This paper will document emerging innovators utilizing cultural knowledge to provide solutions for economic disparities, to mitigate environmental destruction, and to recapture their identities as autonomous indigenous peoples in the face of institutional barriers. For example, entrepreneurs and non-profit organizations that support small business development have begun to integrate the Navajo pedagogical paradigm of Nitsáhákees (thinking), Nahat’á (planning), Iiná (living), Sihasin (Assuring) into contemporary business modeling. The paradigm addresses the importance of identity, culture, language and homeland. It does not subscribe to the narrative that one has to leave home & abandon their identity to be successful. It also allows for entrepreneurs and business owners to maintain the integrity of Navajo culture and traditional values while contributing to the growth of the tribal economy. Several successful businesses have already adopted these strategies. Together, their vision is to combat ‘Navajo brain drain’, where the best and brightest are leaving home to build lives in support of a non-Navajo economy. Traditional Navajo philosophy supports building revenue streams that are not detrimental to land, water, livelihood and communities. Investment in renewable energies such as wind, water, solar and geothermal power, or in agribusiness tied to the Four Original Foods are viable options worth exploring.

Our presentation was not so much about YKD’s work, but about the work of our colleagues who are making BIG CHANGES in Indian Country. For example, we tied in the work of Change Labs, Rezilience, and the Just Transition efforts via Black Mesa Coalition and others, to exhibit what Native innovation looks like in the States. To us, we see it as a merging of culture, history, politics and art. So, that’s how we framed it; as a revival of indigenous creativity, ingenuity and collaboration! View the Prezi we created for our presentation. The videos are pretty dope & they capture what each effort is working to accomplish beautifully.

Above, we are pictured with Elizabeth Rule, who presented her paper titled, ‘The Chickasaw Press: A Case A Study in Indigenous Enterprise and Innovation’; and Clinton Hough, who presented his paper titled, ‘A Propensity to Truck, Barter, and Exchange: The Indian Trade in Colonial Florida’. For 3 days, we had the great opportunity to network and share our work as Yahuaca Knowledge Distribution, and as representatives for Dine College. We were surprised to meet a student from the University of New Mexico who was familiar with many of our colleagues, as well as, some of the initiatives we have contributed to over the past 3 years. It was muy emocionante that so many Native voices are being heard!  #BHC2019.

Cesare Pavese said, “Traveling is a brutality. It forces you to trust strangers and to lose sight of all the familiar comforts of home and friends. You are constantly off balance. Nothing is yours, except the essential things – air, sleep, dreams, the sea, the sky – all things tending towards the eternal, or what we imagine of it.” Our experience in Colombia was just that. We didn’t get a lot of sleep, we were unfamiliar with everything around us, but we were happy, together, and surrounded vibrant people, a loud, constant stream of music that acted as a soundtrack for our everyday adventures, and some of the best tasting food & drinks (sin licor) I’ve had in my life. The fruit was abundant, the seafood was fresh, and the flavors were unique and mouthwatering.

We came to this place with $6.00 in our wallets and a minimal understanding of the Spanish language. Some people would call us crazy for signing up for international travel under those circumstances, but we did so because we believe in the work we are doing, and we were on a mission to spread to the world (or at least to South America) stories of resilience and innovation coming out of Native America. More than that, we wanted to expand our horizons. What we found to be true was that everything we were told to fear, or to be wary of, was opposite of what we encountered. The people we met, every single person, was kind and helpful. The language barrier was more of a tiny hurdle. And, the atmosphere was one that left a strong impression on us. It was a landscape dominated by people of color. We were surrounded by brown people! And, it felt really good to fit into the majority, and not be bombarded by white supremacy (like in the United States).  I mean imagine a world without Trump supporters and MAGA hats… yeah… it was just that! And. it was beautiful.  As people who are conscious of, and somewhat engaged in, American politics, we really enjoyed the break from America’s ‘Age of Alternative Facts’. We completely unplugged from mainstream media, and let each of our days unfold organically. It was an experience that shifted our perspective in unexpected ways, and we definitely want to return again someday 🖤

We installed 52 solar light kits in 52 homes on the Navajo Nation!

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There are about 16,000 homes on the Navajo Nation that lack electricity. Many of these homes use kerosene lanterns, gas lanterns, candles and gas generators for lighting, all of which are fire hazards and contribute to indoor air pollution. YKD’s mission is to light up homes across the Navajo Nation, using solar technology!

This year we installed over FIFTY solar light kits in the Western and Central Agencies of the Navajo Nation. In May, we partnered with solar tech company, Goal Zero, and local tour guide, Leroy Teesyatoh, in Monument Valley, UT to install solar light kits in off-grid homes.

In October, we partnered again with Goal Zero, as well as, the Chinle Unified School District. We set out to install 40 solar kits in 40 homes, but we ended up installing 42 systems in 2 days in Chinle, Manyfarms, Del Muerto, Tsaile, Wheatfields & Lukachukai!

Being new to the Central Agency, the only connection we’ve had w/ the Chinle community was w/ their cross-county team, the Wildcats. They’ve been the main competitors for our hometown team, the Tuba City Warriors, for as long as we can remember. The Wildcats were always known for their endurance & discipline. They trained on hills like we did, and they ran together in packs. We knew who their top runners were & they knew ours. This past week, while organizing & executing our Fall solar install trip, we realized that the people of this region are just as tough, ingenious & disciplined as their cross-country runners. We met business owners & bull fighters! We talked with grandmas & grandpas who built their homes w/ their own hands. We experienced negative stereotypes melt away before our eyes as the true nature of the Diné showed itself to the visitors of this place. We had conversations w/ storytellers & cultural arts masters. We joked around & laughed together over some of the situations we encountered. And, in the end we realized that we’re not so different from one another. We climb different mountains & scale different cliffs, but we go in courageous & come out alive. So, thank you for welcoming us into your homes. And, thank you for choosing renewable energy! Ahxe’hee!

Read the Goal Zero Solar Life Blog for more details, and watch the trip video HERE!