Delegate: National Guard needed in Black Mesa

By Kathy Helms, Diné Bureau, Gallup Independent, FEBRUARY 25, 2008

BLACK MESA — Weekend rain and snow have left residents of the Black Mesa area bogged down in the mud, and Navajo Nation Council Delegate Amos Johnson believes it’s time to call upon the National Guard.

Johnson, who represents Black Mesa, Forest Lake and Rough Rock chapters, said the snow and rain are causing a lot of havoc for road equipment and four-wheel drive vehicles.

“Our chapter road graders are starting to wear down, we’re out of fuel, and temporary workers are running out of resources. We need help from Gov. Janet Napolitano and the federal government,” he said Saturday.

The Navajo Nation Commission on Emergency Management and President Joe Shirley Jr. declared a state of emergency on Jan. 28, and Council approved legislation to give each chapter $25,000 to assist with the weather emergency.

“The emergency funds approved by Council have been exhausted,” Johnson said. “It was used for personnel and hay, and the hay hasn’t even been delivered. They can’t deliver it. We were thinking to maybe get it to Rough Rock and then airlift it up to Black Mesa.,” he said.

“Mary Todacheenie, one of the elders, was saying that the radio said to hang up these little green and blue flags at the road” to signal Emergency Management that there is a need for assistance, Johnson said.

Todacheenie, who lives 5 miles north of Black Mesa Chapter House in Aspen Springs Valley, hung pieces of blue and green clothing out by her road two weeks ago.

“No one came. Yesterday, I just pulled them down,” she told Johnson.

Selena Manychildren, public information officer for Emergency Management, said late Sunday that there had been some assessments conducted in the area earlier in the week, “but since it’s muddy, people don’t go all the way out into the muddy areas, and that region of the reservation was extremely muddy.”

Calling on the National Guard has been considered, she said. “Right now, the Piñon area and Hard Rock area are handling their own situation out there through the chapter, and to ask for the National Guard there needs to be a declaration requested through the state. It has not been done because the emergency wasn’t such that the community couldn’t handle it.”

Ruth Todacheenie, an elder who lives 2 miles northwest of Black Mesa Chapter House across from Oraibi Wash, was using tire tubes to haul supplies to her house. “She can’t drive her vehicle so she’s stacking all her supplies and she’s dragging the tire tubes. I just talked to her.

Fortunately, the phone works there,” Johnson said Saturday morning.

Speaking from her cell phone and a bit breathless, Todacheenie said, “I’ve been trying to get some dog food and my own food across. I just use like inner tubes, the one that they use for the kids. There’s two families here, and my in-law, she has that sugar diabetes.”

Todacheenie said she and family members had gone to Piñon two days prior to get supplies and had spent the night. By Saturday morning, around 5 inches of fresh snow had fallen, which already was up to a foot in places.

“It’s pretty deep. The road to our hogan is impassable so we have to use this tube to drag anything we can on it,” she said as she trudged along. “My son-in-law was really getting short of breath coming in, but they made it home. I was just over there for awhile, and now I’m out with my sheepdogs. The sheep are out in the field, kind of out in the loose with the dogs. I just feed the dogs and then I go home.

“My transportation is just across — I have a three-quarter (ton truck). That’s the only one I get around with and bring water, but now I can’t use that because I don’t have a backup and the road, there’s a wall caved in. It’s just enough to pass by but it’s pretty muddy and once I slide into that ... ”

Her phone went dead.

After numerous attempts to call Todacheenie back, the phone finally rang, having charged long enough for her to utter a few more sentences.

“We need some hay and some coal — that’s the one that keeps the house warm. We just have a little bit of food left. We need something like vegetables and fruit. I think they’re going to have to airlift it. Using a regular 4-wheel is not going to make it.”

Helene Nez-Hill, who lives on the west side of Kitsillie, off Navajo 8065 in Old Tree Valley, made it to Basha’s in Piñon Saturday. “The roads are really washing out. There’s one road that is stranding everybody back home. It’s a small wash that people cross, and it’s caving in. It’s called Two Red Hills in that area. There are eight students that are having a hard time going to school because of that wash — they can’t cross it.

“I just talked to one of the ladies that lives out there and she said they had to walk out and get a few foods. They need food for animals too. Also, we have elders that live in that area. I have a father that lives there. He has a heart condition, and he’s pretty much stranded too. I worry about him,” she said.

“It’s an annual process. FEMA did go in and fix some of those roads in 2005 during Operation Hashtl’ish, but if you don’t do long-term repairs, they tend to get washed out again.”

“Old Tree Valley, Oak Ridge and Aspen Spring Valley, people are stranded up there. They can’t get hay for their animals. They can’t get food,” Johnson said.

“People are jumping on me and I told them, I’m doing the best I can.”




Reprinted as an historical reference document under the Fair Use doctrine of international copyright law.