11/10/2011 Blog Posting by Robert Sabie, Jr.: First off, I want to say how grateful I am to have had the opportunity to work with The Forgotten People. I was introduced to Marsha Monestersky, Program Director of Forgotten People during a phone conference back in January of 2011 by my professor, Troy Abel, whom Marsha had met at an EPA environmental justice forum in Washington D.C. That was my first time of hearing of the many issues that the Navajo people faced, especially in the Tuba City/Cameron area. I felt moved by the stories that Marsha told me.
In June of 2011, Dr. Abel and I made a short trip to the Navajo Nation. Like no other place I have visited, the landscape of the Navajo Nation is both unique and beautiful. We were invited to meet several families and appreciated being welcome into their homes. This was also my first experience eating fry bread which I found delicious, although my stomach didn’t know quite what to think about it. We met Ronald Tohannie, who has been a leader in using a GPS unit in mapping various items around the area. Ronald gave us a tour of the water hauling routes and delivery points. We also were able to attend one of the water deliveries and witness how difficult obtaining safe drinking water was for many families. On our last evening in the area we attended a community planning meeting at James Peshlakai’s home in Cameron. I could tell that James was a great teacher by his ability to illustrate his points by means of story telling. Meeting some of the families was the most important aspect of taking on this project.
After completing the project, Dr. Abel suggested at the last minute that I enter my map in an EPA contest. I had no idea that this project would take me to Washington D.C. This past week Dr. Abel and I spent two days at the Apps for the Environment forum in Washington D.C. The morning that we left D.C. I was honored by being given the opportunity to speak in front of several important people from the EPA. They wanted me to speak about the technology of the online map. Although I highlighted some of the features of the online map, I chose to focus on telling a story. I told the story of Marsha and Don Yellowman meeting Dr. Abel at the environmental justice forum. I spoke of our trip to Cameron and meeting people without access to safe drinking water. I told them that they cannot solve problems with technology in offices in Washington D.C. I told them that in order for technology to help solve problems, they need to empower communities with the knowledge and ability to use that technology.
Moving forward, I think that this project may provide momentum for The Forgotten People. Being an outsider, I realize that I only have a basic understanding of what the Navajo people need. My suggestion is that The Forgotten People use my project as a stepping stone to ask more specific questions. When Marsha met Dr. Abel at the environmental justice conference she asked, “Who can help us with mapping?” That question has been answered. The next questions could be how can this map help your community and what would make the map more useful?
The other night I sent an email to Marsha and in that email I told her that “although I am being recognized for my mapping abilities, the greatest reward is knowing that more awareness is being raised about the issues faced by the communities of the Navajo Nation and that the people are not forgotten.” Thank you again and I look forward to continuing to contribute in your fight for environmental justice.
Robert Sabie, Jr.