In the year 2022, it is difficult for some to comprehend that over 14,000 families in the United States live without electricity and water, many of whom are Navajo people that reside on the Navajo Nation. With support from Navajo Nation leaders, the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority (NTUA) partnered with the American Public Power Association (APPA) and member utilities to connect homes to the electric grid. Light Up Navajo was created as a mutual aid project that extends electricity to many homes in our communities. It is life-changing for families who have waited for electricity their entire lives.
As president of the Navajo Nation, I’ve met many of the families who have received these basic amenities for the very first time. This means that they can finally enjoy modern conveniences of lighting, refrigerators and electronic devices without having to use generators.
Local line crews from NTUA worked alongside crews from 14 utility companies from across the United States from as far away as Maine and as close as our neighboring New Mexico energy company PNM. Crews worked long hours and some as many as 12 days straight to construct miles of distribution lines to connect our Navajo homes.
The Navajo Nation spreads over the largest land area of any indigenous population in the United States. Our teachings tie us to the land, making it a challenge to provide electricity to families who live in remote areas of the 28,000 square miles of Navajo land.
As a young person, growing up without electricity and running water taught me to provide for my family by hauling water, chopping wood and understanding how fortunate we were to be able to use kerosene for our table lamps from time to time. As a leader, I am very grateful for what Light Up Navajo delivers to our elders and youth. Electricity can also provide for other critical services including running water, heat and access to high-speed internet. These are services most people take for granted.
Recently, a PNM crew constructed distribution lines to electrify the home of June and David Jones near Burnham, NM June called the crew members “Shiyáázh,” (my son) as she cried tears of joy when the work was completed and she could turn on her lights with a simple flip of a switch for the first time. Crews were treated to a meal of stew and frybread by June and her family. What so many people take for granted, many on the Navajo Nation are grateful for – to be able to make a pot of coffee without building a fire and refrigerate their food.
The average cost to connect one family to the power grid is $40,000, but it is at no cost for recipients of this program thanks to companies donating time and materials along with the Cares Act funding. Since the Light Up Navajo program started in 2019, nearly 7,000 family homes have been connected to the power grid.
I congratulate the families and thank all the volunteers. Working together is how we get things done. We will continue to build upon this success and the hard work of many who are working to make our nation stronger. I am proud of our work, and I look forward to the continued partnership with Light Up Navajo IV.