Community Member

Collective Medicine

Window Rock, Arizona

Water Warriors helping deliver drinking water to community members who need it.

As 2020 began and the pandemic began to take hold of our ways of life, the frailties of our human systems became critically exposed. In the United States, for the Navajo Nation, the cracks in the systems became fissures. 

Zoel Zohnnie, a community leader, was laid off like many others at the beginning of the pandemic. When asked how the Water Warriors United program of Collective Medicine got started, he’s been known to say, “I don’t know if I got restless or I just wanted to get back out there and try to do something.” 

Water Warriors United members have delivered 168 cases of bottled water along with 825 gallons of fresh drinking water to community members in one day.

What drove Zoel back out there was seeing that one essential resource was being overlooked in the emergency supply chain for the Navajo people: water. With the emphasis on cleaning and washing hands to avoid COVID-19, Zoel knew that more remote families were at a disadvantage and more at risk of exposure when trying to acquire water. For so many reasons, many wrapped in inequity, in a population of  174,000,only 1 in 3 households on the Navajo Nation do not have running water in their homes. To get water can sometimes require driving as much as two hours.

Zoel reached out to his network of friends, farmers and community health advocates to identify elders without running water and got to work. Hitching up a 275-gallon tank to make deliveries to elders in remote areas of the Navajo Nation, he discovered they needed water barrels as well and supplied those. As he ran the delivery routes, word spread and the Water Warriors United was born. The one-man operation had a team of volunteers by June.

Since then, the team has designed a water-hauling operation with community volunteers that delivers clean water and water vessels across the Navajo and Hopi  reservations. With a fleet of four trucks with flatbed trailers, 375-1000 gallon water tanks, water pumps and miscellaneous supplies, they also deliver 55-gallon water barrels, 275-gallon water tanks and 5-gallon water jugs. Collective Medicine hopes to utilize GPS technology for tracking service areas and to assist with delivery schedules.

Group members providing and helping load a ton of wood, to help make sure communities stay warm.

They also have added wood deliveries to their community members in need as part of Collective Medicine’s new “Sasquatch Fellowship. Throughout the winter they processed and delivered 131 tons of wood.

Sasquatch Fellowship is a campaign to bring firewood to elders on Navajoland. Through the fellowship they are able to bring together organizations, companies, and community members to help obtain, saw and split firewood to families in need.

As the work has developed, Collective Medicine sees the opportunity to address the need for water long term. The crucial aspect of this work “integrates diverse strengths inherent in the community, including traditional knowledge, skills and institutional resources.” Individual households are engaged at every step. When households are serviced, an assessment is done to determine overall needs.

What these assessments point to is the need to test private public water wells for toxicity across the reservation. Collective Medicine is working to develop a research program that will use high-quality digital testing equipment for rapid onsite results to share with community members. Eventually they will create a publicly accessible, dedicated dashboard to keep everyone informed.

While he isn’t seeking recognition, Zohnnie and members of Collective Medicine were recognized in Gila River Arena for hard, selfless work that brought not only water and wood but precious hope to many.

As Keana Kaleikini, Associate Director and Chair of Collective Medicine says of their work, “Collectivism is the medicine.”

Written by Michele Gielis


A Water Warrior, Q&A: How Zoel Zohnnie mobilized to deliver water to his people on the Navajo Nation, Cronkite News, July 21, 2021

PBR fan and community leader Zohnnie steps up for Navajo Nation in time of need, PBR, BY: ANDREW GIANGOLA, March 13, 2021

Navajo Nation receiving truckloads of donated firewood for warmth, Fox 10 Phoenix, February  15, 2021

Soda company honors man who has been delivering water to Navajo Nation, KOB 4, by Grace Reader, November 23, 2020

Arizona ‘Water Warrior’ featured on popular soda bottles for acts of service, Newsbreak, November 21, 2021

Water warrior’ featured on soda bottle, By Cindy Yurth, December 10, 2020

‘We get scared when we’re out of water’: Team delivers water, tanks across Navajo Nation, AZCentral, by Shondiin Silversmith, September 11, 2020

Group steps in to help rural Navajo Nation communities with access to running water, ABC 15, by Nick Ciletti, August 12, 2020

Navajo ‘Water Warrior’ drives miles during COVID to deliver to those in need, Cronkite News, by Jacqueline Robledo, July 31, 2020

Michele Gielis

Michele Gielis

Michele has spent the last decade helping nonprofits raise their voice for change. She looks to make action meaningful by connecting people to the technology and messages that bring resonance and resilience. Michele is proud to support the Anthropocene Alliance working to get communities to #HigherGround


Zoel Zohnnie
Keana Kaleikini


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