‘American Diagnosis’: ‘Water Warriors’ Tap Diné Resilience to Increase Access on Navajo Land


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Episode 6:

In 2020, during the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic, Zoel Zohnnie was feeling restless. Growing up on the Navajo Nation, he said, the importance of caring for family and community was instilled at an early age. So Zohnnie wanted to find a way to help members of his tribe. One need in particular stood out: water.

American Indian and Alaska Native households are 3.7 times as likely to lack complete plumbing as households whose members do not identify as Indigenous or Black, according to a 2019 mapping report on plumbing poverty in the United States. 

“Climate change and excessive water use is exacerbating these struggles,” explained George McGraw, CEO of DigDeep. “Much of the western United States has been in severe drought for years. Many rivers and wells on or near the Navajo land have dried up. As groundwater recedes, people are forced to seek water from unsafe sources.”

To answer that need, Zohnnie began hauling water to people who were without, and he founded Water Warriors United. In this episode, listeners come along for the ride as he ― and his truck ― make one herculean trek across snow-covered roads in New Mexico.  

Episode 6 is an exploration of the root causes behind the Navajo Nation’s water accessibility challenges and a story about the water rights that some communities have effectively lost.

Voices from the episode:

  • Dr. Ernestine Chaco, emergency medicine physician and lawyer Twitter
  • Brianna Johnson, community health representative with the Naschitti Chapter, Navajo Nation
  • George McGraw, CEO of DigDeepLinkedIn, Instagram, Twitter
  • Jeanette Wolfley, assistant professor of law at the University of New Mexico — LinkedIn
  • Zoel Zohnnie, founder of Collective Medicine and actor — TikTok

Season 4 of “American Diagnosis” is a co-production of KHN and Just Human Productions.

Our Editorial Advisory Board includes Jourdan Bennett-BegayeAlastair Bitsóí, and Bryan Pollard.

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KHN (Kaiser Health News) is a national newsroom that produces in-depth journalism about health issues. Together with Policy Analysis and Polling, KHN is one of the three major operating programs at KFF (Kaiser Family Foundation). KFF is an endowed nonprofit organization providing information on health issues to the nation.


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