‘America’s Diagnosis’: ‘Water Warriors’ Taps Diné Resilience to Increase Access to Navajo Land

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Episode 6:

In 2020, during the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic, Zoel Zohnnie was on edge. Growing up in the Navajo Nation, the importance of caring for family and community was instilled at an early age, he said. So Zohnnie wanted to find a way to help his tribe. A particularly prominent need is: water.

According to the 2019 Mapping Report on U.S. Pipeline Poverty, American Indian and Alaska Native families are 3.7 times more likely to lack an intact pipeline than those whose members do not identify as Native or Black.

Digital illustration in watercolor and pencil. Two hands can be seen holding a water tanker facing right. Bright blue water droplets radiate from it. The golden yellow in the background gradually turns to black, symbolizing the hope brought by the water truck.
(Oona Tempest/KHN)

“Climate change and excessive water use are exacerbating these struggles,” explained DigDeep CEO George McGraw. “Much of the western U.S. has been in severe drought for years. Many rivers and wells on or near Navajo land have dried up. As groundwater dwindles, people are forced to seek water from unsafe sources.”

To meet this need, Zohnnie started delivering water to those who didn’t have it, and he founded Water Warriors United. In this episode, listeners come to hitch a ride as he and his truck make a grueling trek down the snowy roads of New Mexico.

Episode 6 explores the root causes behind the Navajo Nation’s water accessibility challenges and the stories of the water rights some communities have actually lost.

Voices from the episode:

  • Dr. Ernestine ChacoEmergency Medicine Physicians and Attorneys Twitter
  • Brianna JohnsonCommunity Health Representative for Naschitti Chapter, Navajo Nation
  • George McGrawCEO of DigDeep — LinkedIn, Instagram, Twitter
  • Janet WolfleyAssistant Professor of Law, University of New Mexico – LinkedIn
  • Zor ZoneFounder and Actor, Collective Medicine – Tik Tok

Season 4 of “American Diagnosis” is a co-production between KHN and Just Human Productions.

Our Editorial Advisory Board includes Jordan Bennett-Begaille, Alastair Bisoyand Brian Pollard.

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