[I would work in the program again because] I would like the project to continue, because it makes a difference in the land for future generations.”
Navajo Summer Youth Program
Moving large rocks in the hot sun may not sound like your idea of a great summer, but many Navajo youth in the Eastern Navajo Agency compete to be hired for just that job.
RPA has worked on various types of restoration projects to positively impact the Rio Puerco Watershed. One of its most successful has been its Navajo Summer Youth Project. This provides training, supervision, and youth salaries for students at Eastern Navajo chapters, most notably Ojo Encino and Torreon, with students also coming from Counselor, Pueblo Pintado, and White Horse Lake. Students construct and maintain water harvesting and erosion control structures, largely constructed of rock.
Students from earlier programs have gone on to college and then have become supervisors and trainers during their summer vacations. Currently three former supervisors have started their own business installing on ranches the type of erosion control structures they learned during the Summer Youth Program. Others have received Master’s Degrees, scholarships to universities, or chosen other professions such as dental assistant.
RPA has been working for over a decade with the Eastern Navajo Chapters to maintain and fund a summer program during which at least 12 students work for six to eight weeks on erosion control and water harvesting projects. The crew is usually divided between girls and boys. This program has had remarkable success in a number of areas. It has kept a high proportion of Navajo youth—who have one of the highest unemployment rates in the state—employed during the summer. It has taught those kids about their watershed and instilled in them an interest in further education about watershed issues, among other things.
During these eight weeks, the Navajo youth participants learn valuable life skills in addition to watershed restoration. Not only do they learn about their own culture and the environment they live in, they also learn to work as a team, and gain skills in project design and management as well as safety precautions, resume building, and overall professionalism. Summer crews have ranged in size from 10 to over 30 students, ages 14-25, and are incredibly popular—we do not have enough funding for every student who applies.
Over the course of the program, students have installed over 2,000 structures—one-rock dams, media lunas, headcut control structures, and Zuni Bowls—designed by noted Southwestern U.S. stream and wetland restoration consultant, Bill Zeedyk of Zeedyk Ecological Consulting. The USGS has monitored the success of these structures and discovered that areas treated with them retain 60-66% more sediment than untreated areas. In other words, these low-cost projects, using only Navajo Youth and rocks, have been having a significant, measurable effect controlling erosion and improving water quality.
The eastern Navajo Nation in northern New Mexico is amongst the poorest regions in the entire USA. The average annual per capita income is only around $8,000 and 40% of all residents live in poverty (compared to around 19% in the state of New Mexico). According to the Navajo Nation Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy (2009-2010) the unemployment rate on the Navajo Nation has drastically risen from around 27% in the 1990 to over 50% in 2007. These conditions are alarming. Since existing situations are that 78% of all roads in the reservation are unpaved, businesses are not investing in this region because of this missing infrastructure. Opportunities are therefore very limited, especially for youth. Only around 2% graduate high school and acquire a university degree, while most of them never achieve any higher education. This in effect, limits opportunities for the youth substantially.
[I would work in the program again because] because it is a pretty good program for young people to understand what is going on in their community.
[I would work in the program again because] we want a better future for our community.