Spreading Light: The Navajo Nation Relief Project

navajo nation relief project in Monument Valley, UT

Recently, we helped sponsor the Navajo Nation Relief Project where photographer, Meg Bronson, used her photography to help boost the morale of the Navajo Nation residents amidst the distress of the Corona Virus. We wanted to know more about the relief project and what role photography played in providing service and relief to those living down in Monument Valley, Utah. Here's what we found out: 

Can you explain the purpose of the Navajo Nation Relief Project?

Jackie Wheeler, the owner of Mountain Yoga Sandy, really wanted to get involved in a service project to help the community during this time of need for so many people. She extended the invitation to all of us yoga instructors, and after a few rounds of discussion and voting, the majority voted for helping the Navajo Nation. We learned that these rural communities on the reservation face a lack of electricity and water in many households — not to mention an already existing shortage in healthcare services. As a result, the most basic measures to fight the virus’ spread, such as handwashing can be difficult. Gaining access to essential supplies, such as cleaning and sanitation products has also been a challenge for these rural communities.

navajo nation relief project

Furthermore, many in close-knit Navajo communities live in crowded homes where self-quarantine is impossible. Many of these factors resulted in the Navajo Nation quickly becoming one of the highest infected areas per capita. Not only was the virus rapidly spreading, but tourism has been shut down until further notice, which is the main source of income for many residents. Our purpose and mission at Mountain Yoga Sandy was to organize a fundraiser to help collect and distribute supplies and food for immediate community needs in the Monument Valley, UT chapter.

What efforts were made in preparation for this event?

This was a grassroots fundraiser that we decided to organize through Mountain Yoga Sandy. The reason we chose Monument Valley is because my parents happen to be living there right now for a service mission. They have been there since August of 2019, but when COVID-19 hit, their efforts quickly changed and adjusted to helping the community in whatever capacity they could help. They are well connected with the community there and have a good gauge into who needs help and in what capacity.

Najajo nation relief project grabbing supplies from airplane

As a result, we worked with them directly to obtain a “wish list” of items and supplies that are most needed. We organized a donation list and sent it out to our entire Mountain Yoga community as well as to our friends and family. We collected donations for about 3 weeks and then had two pilots who graciously donated their time to help fly the donations down to Monument Valley. A few of us went down to the reservation for a couple of days to help organize and distribute some of the donations, and my parents will continue the efforts and distribution for the remaining supplies and anything else that comes in.

*Note: This fundraiser did not run through any church or organization. Every dollar was donated to the community of Monument Valley.

Can you explain your role in using photography as an act of service?

My passion for photography lies in documenting people. There is something so special and powerful in capturing an image of a soul that can be remembered and reflected on for years, not only for our own memories but for generations to come. My mom, who lives on the reservation, was expressing one day that she doesn’t see a lot of photos in people’s homes on the reservation, but when she does it seems to be something they are very proud of.

portrait of couple for Navajo nation relief project

We suddenly had the idea of offering my services for a free portrait session to any family who was interested while I’d be down there helping to drop off donations. My mom was able to get the word out to the community ahead of time for anyone who was interested. It was an absolute pleasure and joy to capture photos of these beautiful people, their culture, and am honored at the opportunity to document and provide photographs for their own posterity.

As a photographer, what made you decide to take this opportunity?

It just sort of happened organically. We were organizing the fundraiser to help deliver needed supplies and food to the community in Monument Valley when we realized there was also a need for photographs. This was just a way I was able to give during a time of need.

portrait of lady making a blanket for Navajo nation relief project

Why did you choose to shoot Sony?

I’ve been shooting with Canon for the past 12 years, and while I love their technology, I’ve begun to explore other brands and the advancements they’ve been making over the years. I picked up a Sony 6400 last year for a lightweight travel camera and also to test out the mirrorless technology. I found myself quite surprised by the performance of this camera and have been researching Sony ever since. I’ve rented a few lenses from Pictureline to play with on my 6400, but it’s time for me to upgrade to a newer full-frame camera, so this was a great opportunity to try it out and see what it’s really made of.

portrait of women by mitten for Navajo nation relief project

How can photographers who are interested in these types of projects become involved?

This project just organically evolved as we were trying to find a way to help the Navajo Nation. There are all sorts of foundations and organizations though that I’m sure could use photographers to help document the good work being done in the world. My suggestion would be to find a cause you’re passionate about, look for an organization that is helping, and then reach out to see how your services as a photographer can be used.

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