When Lois Ann Neztsosie’s late son David passed in late August, he had plans to cobble four cords of firewood for the upcoming winter in Western Navajo Nation.
The goal was to keep his 95-year-old mom warm when temperatures dropped into the teens on the Colorado Plateau.
A deadly cancer struck David, a Save the Confluence member, in late August.
“…We need to keep warm for mom’s sake,…” he told his sister Lula Neztsosie. “.. he was going to buy more before winter…(It’s) not going to happen…”
Save the Confluence learned about the elderly mother’s loss and placed her name on the STC wood hauling program. The load may not meet David’s goal for his mother, but the family expressed gratitude.
“Every amount helps, bless all your heart keeping us in mind, more blessings and prayers to those assisting (and) grant programs,” Lula said.
Save the Confluence received an Environmental Justice grant in 2021. The group, with the help of Grand Canyon Trust, created its mission and a budget in March.
A part of STC’s mission and budget was to help Navajo families that continue to dwell in rural areas of Bodaway/Gap. Due to lack of help from the Navajo Nation and local chapter, families are struggling to hold onto the land. Many have been forced to move into urban Navajo areas or to metropolitan cities such as Phoenix, Flagstaff, Salt Lake City or Albuquerque.
STC signed a contract with a Cameron wood hauler in September, who hauled one-fourth of a cord to 10 families. Many Navajo residents identified live in Shadow Mountain and in Gap/Bodaway.
Some elders, startled to receive wood, asked if the Navajo Nation was behind the free wood distribution. It was not.
The 110 chapters have emergency funds set aside, and many include wood. When the Office of the Navajo Nation President declares an emergency, that’s when Navajo chapters help its citizens, several chapter officials explained.
Families in western Navajo Nation rely on their children or grandchildren to deliver wood. Sometimes Navajo elders stay with their children to avoid the freezing winters.
Since early September, a red Chevrolet pickup truck ambled over wash-boarded dirt roads, portions gouged washed out by recent rainstorms in search of homes and sheep camps. The wood hauler didn’t know many recipients.
For directions, the wood hauler relied on cell phone numbers, and Google maps passed to him from grandchildren to local people capable of describing mesas, buttes, earthen water dams and hills in their mind’s eye.
He coined them “human GPS.”
Robert Acothley, a 79-year-old Vietnam War veteran, lives near the edge of the Salt Trail in southern Bodaway. When Acothley found out his name was on the list, he drove to Gap Trading Post, met the wood hauler, and trucked the load home.
He thanked the wood hauler and STC members numerous times.
“It was great. Because I’m alone out here,” Acothley said. “I don’t have the strength to go out myself to get wood. My grandchildren help me, but they are working off the reservation. Some in Phoenix and California and Utah. I’m happy with the early wood load.”
Acothley projects the cord of wood will last one month and he will start shopping for wood sold on roadsides or at Friday’s flea market in Tuba City.
Rita Nockiadeneh, an elder, moved from Bodaway near her sister in Cedar Ridge for a portion of the winter. She uses hot embers to grill her food and warm up her tortillas.
“Thank you, she needs wood,” a Nockiadeneh’s relative said. “She still uses wood to cook meals.”
Save the Confluence was created more than a decade ago to oppose a proposed aerial tram/tourist resort that would have stretched to the bottom of the Grand Canyon at the confluence of the Colorado and Little Colorado rivers. The so-called Grand Canyon Escalade project was defeated in October 2017, when the Navajo Nation council refused to approve the project. Some of the families that received wood spoke against the project, saying their traditional way of life would have been destroyed by massive tourism through the area.