August 2016

Navajo Summer Youth Program


Moving large rocks in the hot sun may not sound like your idea of a great summer, but many youth in the Eastern Navajo Agency compete to be hired for just that job. This summer, Eastern Navajo youth were busy completing a variety of low-tech erosion control projects as part of the Río Puerco Alliance’s Navajo Summer Youth Project.


Río Puerco Alliance has worked on various types of restoration projects to positively impact the Río Puerco Watershed. One of its most successful has been the Navajo Summer Youth Project. This provides training, supervision and 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, who have gone on to college, have returned as supervisors and trainers during their summer vacations. Three former supervisors have started their own businesses installing erosion control structures on ranches. Others have received master’s degrees, scholarships to universities, or have chosen other professions, such as dental assistant.


RPA has worked for more than 10 years with the Eastern Navajo chapters to maintain and fund a summer program where at least 12 students work for six to eight weeks on erosion control and water harvesting projects. This program 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. 


Over the course of 12 years, students have installed more than 2,000 structures—one-rock dams, media lunas (semi-circles), headcut control structures and Zuni Bowls—designed by noted southwestern U.S. stream and wetland restoration consultant Bill Zeedyk of Zeedyk Ecological Consulting. The United States Geological Service (USGS) has monitored the success of these structures and discovered that areas treated with them retain 60 to 66 percent 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.

This summer, the crew—as usualwas equally divided between girls and boys. The participants completed a report after finishing their work. Comments included: “This year we learned a lot of new things. We had a lot of fun. It was a great experience.”

For more information, contact Barbara Johnson, executive director of the Río Puerco Alliance. 505.474.6689,


Indigenous Life Ways 1st Annual Youth Wellness Camp


Indigenous Life Ways, Inc. is a newly founded nonprofit that offers indigenous-focused children’s programs that support a healthy lifestyle. Soon after summer solstice, the Chichitah (Diné lands), New Mexico-based organization held its first Youth Wellness Camp in the Zuni Mountains for youth ages 3 to 10. They planted food crops and had a healthy foods workshop, had discussions about Diné culture and the importance of clean water, and created art and music. Krystal Curley, ILW’s program manager, said, “We are looking forward to collaborating with our communities. We believe that indigenous teachings are the answers to our modern-day problems, and from those teachings we can heal together.” For more information, call 505.469.7647 or email



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