My Service Immersion with the Navajo and Hopi Nations: What Must Be Done?

By MC Corey

During Winter intersession, I traveled to Tuba City, Arizona with nine other DePaul students to serve and learn about the Navajo and Hopi peoples that reside in the area. The experience was organized as a part of the Vincentians In Action service immersion trips. While attending these trips, students are asked to reflect on how they can play a role in systemic social change through the Vincentian question “What must be done?” However, rather than being confident in what must be done to bring justice to the Navajo and Hopi Nations, I left the trip feeling rather conflicted.

The hands-on service our group participated in was helping the Daughters of Charity with their food bank. The food bank distributes monthly food kits to families on the reservation, customized by the number of persons per household. The food bank plays a significant role in the nourishment of the community. Much of Tuba City’s population lives in poverty. The reservation offers very few career opportunities.

The three main jobs that exist on the reservation include working in the local schools, the local hospital, or one of the fast-food restaurants that reside along the government-owned roads (non-Navajo infrastructure is not permitted on the reservation). While the presence of these restaurants can be seen as a good thing (the provide employment to residents of the reservations), they lend to another large problem the nation faces, diabetes. It is believed that a large portion of Tuba City’s population is either diabetic or prediabetic.

In trying to come up with an answer for “What must be done?” about poverty in Tuba City, I was sent on a downward spiral of “what-ifs” that ultimately led to nowhere. I asked the Daughters of Charity what their goal was for their services on the reservation. Did they foresee a time when they would no longer be needed? The Daughters explained that, in order for the food bank to no longer be needed, the nation would have to no longer heavily depend on the government and charity donations. Additionally, there would need to be a  widespread understanding of Western money management on the reservation; however, the Daughters also informed our group that few people attend the money management classes that are offered.

One speculated reason behind the low attendance is that the Navajo already have their own culture surrounding finances, which greatly differs from the United States’ system. To ask the Navajo to fully adopt the Western ideals concerning finances and infrastructure would be asking them to further compromise their culture, which they are already struggling to preserve. This means that any response to “What must be done?” requires clarification about what is most important for and to the Navajo people: solving the issue of poverty or preserving the native culture. By the end of the trip, I realized that there has yet to be a proposed solution that would allow for both.