Adopt-A-Native-Edler provides essential goods to Elder Navajos living on reservations. This year, Adopt-A-Native-Elder is providing $2 million in aid to the Navajo community. On the website, you can purchase traditional Navajo rugs and 100% of the proceeds go to the artist. ANE donates firewood, food, and necessary items to reservations so that Navajo Elders can continue their traditional way of life.
Can you tell me about the Navajo reservation and why your work is needed?
We exist to fill a gap in Elder care on Navajo reservations. Today we support over 1,160 traditional Navajo Elders over the age of 75 who are living on the reservation in southern Utah and northern Arizona. These Elders are the last generation of traditional indigenous people in the United States. Many of them speak only Navajo, they dress traditionally, they practice traditional ceremonies. Our goal is to provide the things they need— food, medical supplies, everyday items— that make it possible for them to sustain their traditional lifestyles as they age. This year, we’re distributing over 800,000 lbs of items like clothing, PPE, and soap to the reservation. Our deliveries happen for a month in the spring and in the fall, and we deliver to 13 different geographic locations on the reservation. All of our work is powered by volunteers who package the items and donate their time to drive it to the reservation.
How did you get your start?
I met a Navajo woman who was getting her teaching degree while mothering two children, but was still dedicated to sharing information about Navajo Elders being removed from their homeland. She would drive ten hours to drop off food to them, and I wanted to help. I created an art piece and donated the profits to her. She used the money to buy more food, and eventually invited me to visit the reservation. It was hard to see that the people of the first nation of our country are living in such great poverty. I didn’t know why, but I knew I had to help. I had a store at the time where I put information about the reservation and set up the “Adopt-A-Native-Elder” idea where people can pay to feed an Elder on the reservation twice a year. Since then, we have been around for 36 years. When I first started visiting the reservation, it wasn’t easy to gain the respect and trust of the Elders since they have often been abused by the white culture. I learned that just because I want to give, it doesn’t mean that they want to accept my help. Now, however, it’s amazing to see the trust we have built and how accepting they are.
Can you explain the Native American Spirit of the Giveaway Circle and its connection to your work?
It really means to give the best that you can. I first learned about this when I went to the reservation to deliver velvet fabric to an Elder, Alice, so she could make a shirt. As a single mom, spending $80 on fabric for her was a big deal to me. While we were there, a young boy had been hit by a car. Other Navajos laid down a blanket, and everyone started putting items down on it. They were going to give the items to a medicine man to help the young boy recover. People put down their jewelry, canned goods, anything they had. Alice put down the fabric I had just given her, and I suggested that she put something else down instead. I wanted Alice to have the fabric, but her daughter translated to me that Alice said, “This is the best that I have. In my culture, you give the very best.” It was a great lesson for our program. This is where the human side enters the world of humanitarian work. We want to honor who the Navajos are as people, their traditions, their cultures, and give them the best that we can.
What is the best part of your job?
Going to the reservation with ANE after we’ve spent 36 years building relationships with the community is such a unique experience. When people visit the reservation, they get the same feeling I did when I first arrived. We have built such an amazing network of volunteers who come from around the world to help us. Each time our story is shared, we continue to grow. It’s really touching to see how many people care so deeply about something that I just felt deep down that I had to do. We’ve created such a strong level of trust with the Navajo people, which is something that I’m really proud of. I’ve learned so much about giving freely without attachment and building trust despite cultural differences.