The New Mexico Wildlife Federation delivered hunter-donated venison and other wild game meat, as well as cases of bottled water and non-perishable food items to a remote Navajo reservation further isolated by a COVID-19 lockdown.
Jesse Deubel, executive director of the federation, delivered the donations April 15 to residents of the Alamo Navajo Indian Reservation. The game meat included elk, deer, ibex, oryx, black bear, javelina, turkey, pheasant, doves, ducks, geese trout and salmon, “all fully processed and frozen solid,” Deubel said.
The Alamo Navajo Reservation, a satellite of the Navajo Nation Reservation, is isolated geographically in southcentral New Mexico, 220 miles from the Navajo Nation capitol in Window Rock and about 30 miles north of border town Magdalena and 57 miles from the nearest large city, Socorro, which has a population of 8,100. Despite the isolation, Alamo residents have been hit with the coronavirus, the spread of which is exacerbated by their traditional communal style of living, Deubel said. “It’s a tragic situation,” he said. Many of the homes don’t have electricity or running water, Deubel said. “And they live in communal housing units; many times with multiple families in a home and without running water once you’ve got COVID-19, a highly contagious virus, it just spreads like crazy.“
The community has been put on lockdown in hopes of slowing the spread of the virus, which further isolates the community of nearly 3,000. Word of the impending arrival of donated staples spread quickly via the community radio station in both Navajo and English, according to an account posted by Ben Neary, the Federation’s conservation director who attended and assisted with the distribution. “Getting groceries to elderly residents and others on the Alamo Navajo Indian Reservation…is a chore in the best of times,” Neary reported. “And, as the coronavirus increasingly hits the Navajo Nation, these clearly aren’t the best of times.”
Deubel said he was alerted to the dire circumstances at the reservation when he was among a number of people who received an emailed plea from Tara Jaramillo, owner of Positive Outcomes in Socorro, which contracts to provide home health care to the reservation. The email, Deubel said, alerted him there was “a community in dire need of food; kids were hungry and schools have been closed and they’re not providing school lunches like they are in other parts of the state.” Another community asset, the senior citizen center, is also closed, he said. “There’s just no food in the community,” he said.
Neary quotes Jaramillo as saying a curfew and shelter-in-place order came quickly, catching reservation residents unprepared. The closest grocery store is in Socorro so getting groceries and supplies is no easy task under normal conditions. Taramillo also introduced Deubel to Alamo Chapter President Buddy Mexicano, who watched with appreciation as food and supplies were distributed to residents.
Deubel said donations of game meat and other staples came from the entire hunting community in New Mexico, most of whom are members of the federation, which boasts 83,000 members. The federation has a free membership, but 83,000 have signed up to receive their magazine and federation information, including the popular newsletter which features Neary’s reporting on fish and game matters. “Ninety-five percent of what we do is related to hunting, fishing, wildlife conservation, public land conservation,” Deubel said.
The federation announced donations were needed, and the New Mexico Game and Fish Department helped spread the word and worked with Deubel on legal matters pertaining to the donation of game meat. Deubel said he hadn’t weighed the wild game he had loaded in coolers but estimated it at 600 to 700 pounds and “countless canned goods” and other donated non-perishables. All that was added to by that gathered by Ray Trejo, the southern New Mexico outreach coordinator for the federation, who delivered donations from his region, a pickup full of donated meat as well as sacks of rice, beans and other supplies left over from efforts to feed asylum seekers last year in the town of Deming, Neary reported.
Another federation member, Brandon Staton, owner of a cell-tower construction business, offered to contact Verizon Wireless, which agreed to help. Steve Kaiser, field assurance engineer for Verizon, set up a portable satellite system to provide internet and cell phone service. Verizon also issued cell phones to residents so they could communicate readily outside the reservation.
“The ability to call 911 is going to be critical,” Deubel said. “And another thing is when someone is taken from the community to the hospital, no family members can go with them so if it’s a kid who’s 10 years old taken from home and now surrounded by strangers it’s a scary situation. If they have the ability to at least talk on the phone with a parent or grandparent that can go a long way to helping ease their fears.”
Among the donated supplies were 10 gallons of hand sanitizer donated by Rolling Still Spirits distillery of Taos. The reason the New Mexico Wildlife Federation took this to heart was, first, to help a community, Deubel said. “But I think the second part is it gives hunters the opportunity to communicate to the non-hunting public about the quality of people we are and the level of generosity we’re willing to provide,” he said. “And it emphasizes the fact that when we hunt, we hunt for meat. This is a very, very valuable resource and I think there’s some element that’s allowing this message to come through to folks who might see hunting as nothing more than a blood sport.”
He said he has received emails of “support and gratitude” from groups like the Sierra Club, Animal Protection Voters and Defenders of Wildlife, “groups that don’t always agree with the hunting community,” he said. “This is an opportunity to let people know hunting is a legitimate source of sustainable harvest and what we’re procuring out there off our wild public lands is valuable.”