Monday, March 8, 2010

Better Roads - A Winter's Tale

by Mary Robertson-Begay

(Note: Mary is a resident of the Hardrock area of the reservation. She has been a key supporter of ANE for many years, and the Big Mountain food run is held at her family Homeland. Mary writes about a series of crippling snow storms that affected the reservation during  January 2010.)

My favorite time of the year is winter. I love the snow and enjoy watching it all fall softly to the ground. Well, I almost started to . . . almost got tired of it last month. January brought on snow, and more snow, and even some more. We were now up to three feet in some areas and higher in other areas. We had not seen this in Hardrock for a long time.

My husband, Harry, and I work at the Hardrock Chapter house. He is the Community Services Coordinator. (Talk to Harry and "Jack-of-all-trades" is redefined in your vocabulary). I rent an office space there for the Hardrock Council on Substance Abuse, Inc. - a tiny 501(c)(3) organization. For us, work is eight minutes away. We live about 1/2 mile off the pavement, so on most days it's smooth sailing.

We started to receive calls from community members on the second week of on/off again snow. Our Chapter President, Percy Deal, rounded us all up and declared an emergency in Hardrock, although that really did not mean anything because in order for us to receive aid from the county or state, the President of the Navajo Nation and Governor of Arizona need to declare an emergency. That did not come for several more days. In the meantime, the Chapter hired two citizens and their modified four-wheel trucks. Some staff members practically moved into their offices. These people began to operate a shelter without any food or sleeping areas. We had to go shopping for food for the shelter and obtained sleeping bags.

The two four-wheelers were on constant call to dig out people stranded on roads and pick some up from their homes that needed to get to a doctor right away. Patients were beginning to miss dialysis appointments because there was just no way for them to get to the hospitals. Many of the elders were running out of medication, food, and water. Not only was it the elderly, but also young families who were used to living on a weekly supply of food.

Finally we started to see help, first from the Hopi Resources Enforcement, and then the National Guard. I am sorry to say that the Navajo Nation did not step up until the very end, and that was only after begging and pleading with the Navajo Relocation Commission office in Window Rock. The National Guard brought their big trucks, and we were able to load up hay, food, and water for the people who lived the farthest away from the chapter. On a good dry day, an hour is how long it usually takes to go visiting. It took the National Guard, a big grader, and Harry as a guide, almost the whole day to reach the farthest home. The National Guard was able to help out for two only days  the first time. The second group came three days later and helped out for a day and a half.

In the meantime, we had to keep the fire going at home. We were constantly making snow piles to make way for our sheep and horses. The Chapter, where we bought hay, was low on their supplies because the vendors could not get the trailers in. Shoveling snow from our roofs was fun and scary if you've never done it. Our truck would sometimes freeze to the ground, and we would bring out hot water to defrost it before it would move again. The tire chains did not come off for weeks. Pretty soon the truck was parked at the pavement, and we would walk. The half mile felt more like five in our clunky snow boots and always carrying what we could from the store.

The psychologist who works with me explained that we are sun people and that only the sun would bring back our smiles and dampen our anxiety. Attitudes began to show at work, staff members became short tempered, and frustration flared. We cried because there was not any more we could do.

Community members became angry with us for no reason. The first Chapter meeting after all of this, the building was filled to capacity. We heard support from some of them, but others still felt we did not do enough.

Then I began to wonder - - - what happened to us? At what point in one's life does one start to think that someone else is responsible for them? My mother, rest her soul, taught us to be independent. Never look upon another person's table thinking that you should be fed, she would say. I remember her saying, "take care of the sheep, in turn, they will take care of you". I guess I was very fortunate to have someone who did not let me do things my way. All in all, would I do it again? Yeah, no doubt. We just need better roads. But then again I would not want thousands of unfamiliar people at my door asking for the way to the Grand Canyon, or the shortcut to - - - wherever.


  1. Wonderful pictures of the snow. Glad to hear help arrived, even if it took awhile.

  2. The community was extremely fortunate to have your help during the heavy snow, Mary. You always do a great job!