This spring, Miranda Haskie and her husband, Jimmie Long, Jr., lit a kerosene lamp as dusk settled on their high desert town. The next morning, utility workers connected four newly installed power poles to the grid. Electricity is coming—slowly—to the United States’ largest American Indian reservation.
The Navajo Nation sprawls through parts of Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah. On the reservation, 15,000 scattered homes are without power. Each year, the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority (NTUA) brings power to 400-450 homes. At that rate, it will take about 35 years to get the remaining 60,000 reservation residents on the grid. A collaborative project to equip more homes is underway. The NTUA partnered with the American Public Power Association and its member utility companies to “Light Up Navajo.”
Crews from 26 utility companies in 12 states have traveled to the reservation to help. They’ve installed 1,500 power poles and more than 35 miles of electric lines.
Navajos without electricity have learned to manage. They pack food or medication in ice chests or leave it outside in the winter. Children do homework by car dome lights at night. No electricity usually means no running water. Some tribal members have small solar energy systems that deliver irregular bursts of juice.
Without power, Haskie’s family showered, cooked, and charged cell phones and flashlights at her mother’s house two miles away. Long calls life without electricity “not that bad. Growing up, you get used to it.” Haskie and Long say life off the grid was inconvenient—but simple and joyful. Still, they’re excited to be connected.
The couple’s son, Jayden, used portable chargers for his cell phone. Sometimes he fired up a gas generator connected to the home’s electrical panel to watch TV. But the fuel cost meant using the generator sparingly and mostly on weekends.
God spoke and there was light; humans need poles and wires. Jayden’s family and others now have electricity thanks to Light Up Navajo.
Tribal utility crews performed much of the prep work, removing trees or stumps so Light Up Navajo volunteers could focus on installation. Then from April to May, Light Up Navajo connected 300 homes using crews from across the United States.
The morning Haskie and Long’s home got power, an electrician knocked on their door, telling them to turn on their main breaker.
Long did so, and then flipped the porch light switch and opened the door with a smile. That was the crew’s signal to load their trucks and head an hour’s drive down the dirt road to connect more homes.