The Episcopal Church in Navajoland
This winter OUTREACH at Epiphany donated to OPERATION FIREWOOD to help the Episcopal Church In Navajoland to purchase firewood and coal nuggets for our friends on the reservation.
About Operation Firewood
Navajo and Hopi families in northeastern Arizona that have long relied on coal to heat their homes are looking to other sources after last year’s closure of The Kayenta Mine. The mine shut down after decades of supplying the Navajo Generating Station near Page, along the Arizona-Utah border. The Navajo and Hopi tribes shared in the coal royalties.
Tribal members also had access to the coal, regularly loading the long-burning fossil fuel into pickup trucks or buying it from roadside vendors. In 2020 the first winter without it, they were having to travel farther for coal, switching to firewood or even burning household items to stay warm.
“Coal economically works better because it burns longer, you don’t need as much in order to heat your home,” said Monica Nuvamsa, who would drive two hours from her home in Shungopavi on the Hopi reservation to collect coal for her grandmother from the Kayenta Mine.
Peabody Energy, which owned the Kayenta Mine, had provided cards for free coal to Navajo and Hopi government centers to distribute to tribal members. Others purchased it. The loading facility was open three days a week, from late October to mid-March, serving thousands of visitors a year.
Many homes on both the Navajo and Hopi reservations lack electricity, and propane and space heaters are expensive. Cutting firewood is an option, but the nearest forests are hours away and not everyone has woodcutting equipment, their own transportation or money for the trip.
Whether a family lives in an 80-year-old stone house, a trailer, or a structure built of wood, part of the daily routine is chopping firewood multiple times a day. Women and children can spend a full day gathering a truckload of wood that lasts a week. Wood burns a lot faster than coal, so they have to get up during the night to keep the fire burning to keep warm.
It's a lot of physical work and not everyone is able to afford wood. Without access to coal firewood and kindling are a necessity.
The only functioning coal mine on the Navajo Nation now is near Farmington, New Mexico. The company that runs it, Bisti Fuels, typically has around 2,230 visits from people wanting coal to heat their homes. That number has increased to nearly 6,000 after the closure of the Kayenta Mine.
The Navajo teaching about the tsinishgish, “fire poker,” has many uses and is limited to kindle a fire. The spiritual qualities ward off evil spirits or negative energy within a home or hooghan.
The women were told to watch the fire and learned how to use the tsinishgish to control the fire’s heat. When the men went hunting, the women would maintain the fire until the hunters return. Livestock (sheep, cattle, and horses) that live among the people also benefitted from the powers of the tsinishgish for healing and protection, just like the children would need in a home.
For this reason, the tsinishgish “fire poker” is an essential part of Diné daily life. It is also said that when children have bad dreams or experience negativity around them, the massaging of the tsinishgish can help. The ash that gathers at the end of the stick or “fire-poker” is marked on the child’s forehead to keep the evil spirits or negative energy away from the person.