By Ava Cameron
Once upon a time, my Navajo people were a proud Indigenous community living on our ancestral lands, in present day Arizona and New Mexico. For years and generations, they had lived in harmony with the land, respecting and preserving its natural resources. However, as the world around them changed, the community found itself increasingly marginalized and pushed out of its traditional lands. With no power, political support or resources to fight back, my people were finally forced to move out of the land. This was the unfortunate beginning of our journey toward generational homelessness.
Regardless of our ancestors’ efforts to resist displacement, they were eventually forced to leave their homes, as government and private interests sought to exploit the land for their gain. With no other options, they were forced to leave the only home they had ever known and seek refuge in overcrowded urban areas. Areas they were totally unfamiliar with, a life they could barely afford.
This posed a whole new challenge as they struggled to adapt to their new surroundings. Many were forced to live on the streets without access to food, shelter or medical care. Others found temporary shelters in overcrowded shelters or with relatives but were often subjected to discrimination and abuse. This is what led to my experience with homelessness, and it’s the worst situation ever.
However, even with these challenges, our beloved ancestors remained resilient and committed to preserving their traditional way of life. They formed new communities in the urban areas, supporting each other and working together to overcome the many obstacles they faced.
Over time, some members of our community began to organize and advocate for their rights. The Navajo Nation Human Rights Commission has been the backbone of this rebuilding as it fights to manage, protect, and conserve the Navajo Nation’s natural and cultural resources for the sake of the Navajo people. The organization worked tirelessly to raise awareness about the unique challenges faced by Indigenous peoples who have been displaced from their traditional lands, and to secure funding and support for programs that could help us rebuild our lives. Through its efforts, my tribe has been able to secure funding for affordable housing, mental health services and other resources that will help us overcome these challenges. It also worked to raise awareness about the need for greater respect and recognition of Indigenous land rights and to promote policies that would ensure the protection and preservation of these lands.
As we began to rebuild, we also re-established a connection to the land. We have worked to cultivate gardens and other small plots of land and to teach our younger generations about their traditional ways of life. In doing so, we have been able to reclaim a sense of pride and identity, and to pass on our cultural traditions and values to future generations. Regardless of the many challenges we have faced, we have been able to persevere and rebuild, thanks to the strength of our cultural traditions and the support of our allies.
Today, we continue to advocate for Indigenous peoples’ rights and work towards a more just and equitable society, where all people have the opportunity to live with dignity and respect. Our Indigenous community’s story reminds us of the importance of preserving cultural traditions and respecting Indigenous land rights. It also highlights the resilience and strength of marginalized communities, who are often forced to overcome incredible challenges to survive and thrive.
The U.S. government, nongovernmental organizations, and everyone living in the U.S., need to join forces and come up with ways to take care of the homeless. Whether the homelessness was caused by the loss of Indigenous land or not, there should be measures put in place to curb the menace. No one should be subjected to such a terrible and disturbing experience.