Meet Our Speakers: Adrian Herder


Adrian Herder of the Chíshsí clan of the Navajo Nation, explains his identity as a strand of DNA. The clans of his mother and father knit together to create a unique individual from familial characteristics. Family is obviously important to Adrian. He traveled home from Flagstaff where he is in school to host the Westies and share the history of the land that his family has inhabited and lived off of for generations. Time tried myths mingled with personal narratives from his childhood as he introduced us to his relatives, sharing poignant stories about their dedication to their individual life’s work.

Adrian is dedicated in his own right. Out of his high school graduating class of 55, only ten attended college or university, and only four or five are now on track to earn their degrees. Adrian is one of them, finishing his senior year at Northern Arizona University where he studies Wellness and Fitness. Though busy with schoolwork, he also guides tours at the picturesque Antelope Canyon, picks and sells local tea, and hosts college students over the weekend.

On our last morning with Adrian, we found a horny toad hiding under a desert shrub. According to legend, this creature fought off a thunderstorm threatening the earth, using its back as a shield to selflessly protect the place it loved. At our departure, Adrian emphasized the need to channel this warrior instinct toward modern environmental and social justice battles. Adrian himself embodies this spirit, generously educating us about his family and culture.

By: Sarah Dunn


Meet Our Speakers: The Matriarchs of Hardrock, AZ

Lorraine Herder

Lorraine Herder

Lena Henley

Lena Henley

Edith Simonson

Edith Simonson

With worn hands and warm smiles, the matriarchs of Black Mesa weave a tale of Navajo tradition persisting vibrantly through the onslaught of technological and environmental change. The youngest three of nine siblings in the Chíshí Diné clan, Lena Henley, Edith Simonson, and Lorraine Herder are experts in carding and spinning wool yarn. They shear the wool from their own sheep and dye it with native plants such as wild carrot, prickly pear, and sagebrush. “It’s an art that’s fading away,” Edith explains, “Only three or four families still spin and dye their own wool.” The final product of her labor, an exquisitely patterned shawl, warms her shoulders. “It’s a long process, but I enjoy doing it.”

Living without running water or electricity, the Chíshí clan sisters make do with what they have: a beautiful place to call home, tight-knit family, and a deep intimacy with the land. In traditional Navajo culture, the women stay and head the clan while the men leave to join their wives. Thus Lena, Edith and Lorraine have lived on Black Mesa since they were born, their memories stretching back to times when springs still flowed abundantly on the mesa and summer rains were frequent and gentle. Now, as they face a water table depleted by coal mining and the erosion caused by more intense monsoons, the matriarchs of Black Mesa represent the fabric that holds their community together, weathering the changes with warm wool and warmer hearts.

By: Thomas Meinzen

Meet Our Speakers: Marshall Johnson

The number one thing that matters is water Marshall Johnson says as he picks up a large piece of cardboard and sketches on it the Navajo Sandstone Aquifer that lies deep below Black Mesa, a sacred piece of land on the Navajo Nation. The Navajo Aquifer (or N-Aquifer), sits 2,500 feet below ground level and holds extremely pure water due to sandstone filtration. It is the only potable water on the reservation but has a fraught history of water transfers to large-scale farmers and coal fired power plants. Marshall Johnson speaks of how difficult it is to see the water beneath your feet exported to large farming corporations in the southern part of the state and subsidized at a price much cheaper than the water on reservation.

            Marshall Johnson and his wife Nicole Horseherder started a grassroots organization named To Nizhoni Ani (Sacred Water Speaks) as a way for Navajo people to have their voices heard. To Nizhoni Ani, the first environmental group based in the region of Black Mesa, emphasizes water sustainability and education in the local community. They are preserving the water beneath Black Mesa by ending coal slurrying and installing water conservation equipment inside reservation schools, houses, and community buildings. Marshall Johnson and his family are working to instill in others a deeper respect of water, a value that could be treasured everywhere, but most especially in the heart of the arid West.

By Sophie Poukish

Meet Our Speakers: Brett Isaacs

Even before he left his home in Kayenta, AZ for college, Brett Isaacs knew that he would return home with the skills to improve his community on the Navajo Nation. Brett grew up making things with his hands and after seeing a problem in his community, he found his niche building solar power systems. He graduated from Arizona State University with a degree in American Indian Studies, with a focus in Economic Development, Law and Policy. Brett now makes a living working across the Navajo reservation, building power systems in areas without municipal electricity. Beginning in Shonto, where he lives now, he has expanded out to many of the Navajo Nation’s 110 chapters, where an estimated 18,000 people live without power. Brett designs and builds solar systems for individual houses, larger projects like schools, and also makes mobile systems. Brett has taken his work up to the Standing Rock reservation, allowing the protectors there to power their camp sustainably with a mobile unit that will soon be joined by two more. Brett’s skills allow Navajos to improve their quality of life in dramatic ways. As he says, “we have to maintain our traditional aspect, outlook and culture, and still integrate into a progressing society that is using technology and advancement… You are trying to bridge the two… Fossil fuels are not necessarily the future. We have to start investing into something different, and start believing that that difference is going to pay off at some point.” Brett’s work is making a big difference to Native people across the West.

By: Maggie Baker