slowly coming to Freeze residents
By Bill Donovan, Navajo Times, June 21, 2007
WINDOW ROCK - For more years than she
can count, Ruth Tohannie has been wanting electricity
in her come west of Tuba City.
For decades, this was impossible because
her home was within the Bennett Freeze area and no new
development was allowed there while the land dispute
between the Navajos and the Hopis remained unsettled.
When her lands were removed from the
Freeze Area several years ago by court order, she thought
it would only be a matter of time before she would get
electricity at last.
Tohannie kept getting promise after
promise, said Esther Yonnie, her daughter, and each
time she got her hopes up only to find that for one
reason or another, she still wasn't getting electricity.
Tohannie's home is less than 200 feet
from a powerline and she's watched as her neighbors
got electricity hook-ups. But the Navajo Tribal Utility
Authority continued to bypass her house.
Just recently, her daughter said, she
was asked by Tó Nanees Dizí Chapter to
sign something the chapter could use to get funding
for more electrical hookups. Tohannie refused.
"She's tired of signing papers
and not getting anything out of it," Yonnie said.
Just recently, however, Tohannie's hopes
were raised again when NTUA officials came by and told
her that electricity was on the way and that poles would
be dropped off by the end of the month.
"Here it is almost the end of June
and we still haven't seen any poles," Yonnie said.
"I was so excited I was jumping up and down, all
But NTUA officials said the project
is still on schedule and that the 20 families within
the project should have electricity in June or July.
In the past couple of years, the NTUA
and the chapters that were once part of the Bennett
Freeze have been quietly working to bring electricity
to those families that were deprived of this and other
modern conveniences - including running water and indoor
plumbing - since the 1970s because of the land dispute.
NTUA just completed a project south
of Gap, Ariz., bringing electricity to 23 Navajo families
in that area. The agency is now working to complete
the project in the Moenave area where Tohannie lives.
Ethelind Jones, NTUA electrical projects
coordinator, said about 30 percent of the project is
completed. Twenty Navajo families will get residential
electric service there, she said.
Once this is completed, NTUA plans
to begin a project in the Navajo Springs area within
Bodaway/Gap Chapter, which will benefit another 17 Navajo
Many of these families have been petitioning
NTUA for years to get electricity. Jones said most of
the delays have been caused on the chapter level.
All NTUA does is provide electricity
from the poles to the homes, she said. It's up to the
chapters to secure the funding to get the homes wired
up and for many chapters in the western portion of the
reservation, this have been one of their top priorities.
Using tribal grants and funds from the
federal Community Development Block Grant program, the
chapters have steadily been getting the homes wired
Priscilla Little, who handles these
duties for Tó Nanees Dizí Chapter, said
the chapter has a priority list topped by elders and
those with medical problems, followed by single-parent
families and so on.
Most other chapters use the same priority
list, said Jones, which means that there are cases where
NTUA may bypass some houses that are not on the priority
"For some families, it's a lengthy
process," she said.
Eventually, she said, all homes near
powerlines will be hooked up.
The problem is that a lot of homes in
the remote chapters are far from powerlines and for
most of these, the cost to bring electricity is prohibitive.
For these families, Jones said, NTUA
has developed another program, hooking up the homes
to solar energy generators while they wait for the day
when electrical lines reach them.
There is no cost to get onto the solar
program but families pay a monthly fee similar to the
cost of electric power from an NTUA line. The fee covers
the installation costplus maintenance.
Some families, Jones said, have opted
not to get solar power.
"There are limitations to the program,"
she admitted, pointing out that families who depend
on solar power have no learn how to conserve energy.
Usually, she said, there is just
enough energy stored to run lights for a short period
in the evening. It's best to hook up the TV to a car
battery, as most families without electricity now do
on the reservation.