Many of us take for granted that on cold nights we can get warm inside from our central heating. That privilege is not shared by thousands of our Navajo and Hopi Nation neighbors here in Arizona. Many of them—the most recent figures say as many as one-third—lack adequate access to reliable heating.

Our NHS students at BASIS Flagstaff know this fact and are taking action to support our Native neighbors who lack adequate heating through firewood collection and distribution. Our members have teamed up with a local nonprofit organization, United Natives, which works diligently to distribute firewood and other critical supplies to elders on both the Navajo and Hopi reservations.

An NHS student from BASIS Flagstaff in Arizona loads firewood rounds.

One of those NHS students is Jack Goldstein, who says he didn’t realize how important the firewood was to the Navajo until he helped collect it last fall: “After the first time when we loaded up two trailers and two trucks completely full of wood,” he says, “it felt really good to know that every piece I loaded in went to helping keep people warm and make their lives a little easier.”

The project grew out of efforts that started early in the pandemic. My wife is a physician on the Navajo Nation working with the Indian Health Service. In that capacity, she connected me with United Natives, a nonprofit that needed help distributing critical supplies to neighbors on the Navajo and Hopi Nations. Since BASIS Flagstaff was shut down, I had more time to volunteer and started delivering PPE, hand sanitizer, water, and other supplies all over Navajo and Hopi lands. As the pandemic waned, I continued working with United Natives, but shifted focus from PPE to school supplies, weather gear, firewood, and water.

When I became the NHS adviser, I incorporated outreach to our Navajo and Hopi neighbors. Students started dropping off firewood and other weather gear at the school. In late November, several NHS students were able to process, haul, and distribute enormous firewood rounds to our partners on Navajo Nation. Their support was invaluable and enabled us to load three trailers and four trucks full of firewood. These firewood rounds enabled our Navajo neighbors to keep dozens of families warm on cold winter nights. The firewood was even more critical as Flagstaff received more than 11 feet of snow this winter.

Our efforts have attracted a great deal of attention in our community. Several local loggers, excavators, and home builders drop firewood at a rented lot. This enables us to have a supply of firewood for our partners on the Navajo and Hopi Nations to pick up and then distribute to their communities. So, BASIS Flagstaff NHS is playing a critical role in empowering the local community.

Even though our students do not distribute firewood directly to our Navajo and Hopi neighbors, they do interact with the Native organizations that we support. This interaction enables our NHS students to build community and connections with Native volunteers who are on the front lines of keeping folks warm.

This effort is an ongoing project for our chapter, and it’s already expanded into some new areas that we hadn’t planned. For example, we have a lost and found where lots of unclaimed weather gear ends up. We used to donate that to different nonprofit groups. But now, every month or so, we have two or three 50-gallon bags full of coats and hats and gloves that we donate to the Navajo and Hopi. It’s almost like a wraparound service. If we can’t get them firewood on a cold night, we are able to keep our neighbors warm with a coat or mittens.

About the Author

Andrew Robarge is a history teacher and NHS adviser at BASIS Flagstaff, a K–12 charter school in Flagstaff, AZ. Follow the efforts of United Natives on Instagram (@United_nativesinc) or on Facebook (@unitednatives).

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