Ramah Navajo Community

Ramah Navajo Community’s ERNEH Project

Navajo white and yellow corn. Photo courtesy of Randy Chatto.

Background information from CDC:  The title of this program is “Empowering Ramah Navajos to Eat Healthy by Using Traditional Foods” (ERNEH). The Ramah Navajo community, also known as Tlochini’ Dine’, has developed programs to help prevent diabetes and other chronic diseases through the re-introduction of traditional foods, increased opportunities for physical activity, social support, and promotion of policy change. The program is re-establishing a sustainable dry-land agriculture system by conducting composting workshops which promote organic growing methods and water harvesting. The program is developing an “honor walk” that educates the community about Navajo Long Walk history and integrates a sustainable physical activity and social support program.  The Ramah Band of Navajo Indians is located in a rural area in northwestern New Mexico, separated from the main Navajo Nation. Nine hundred families, with about 4000 tribal members, live in small family “camps” scattered over 625 square miles of high desert land.  Diabetes is a serious problem, with more than 250 individuals listed as active in the Pine Hill Health Center Diabetes Registry.

An interview with Mr. Randy Chatto

What’s your favorite thing about being involved in your traditional foods project?      

Being a part of history: “traditional foods” is probably one of the most important elements in any Native American/Alaskan Native’s culture. In that culture there is someone keeping that practice moving forward, keeping it alive through sowing, hunting, gathering, reaping and harvesting. You are a key component to keeping your land, your people healthy, informed, encouraged and appreciated.
I feel very fortunate and blessed to know that I in some way am helping my people of the Ramah Navajo Community.

What traditional foods and physical activities do you have going on this summer?

We are solely concentrating on the gardening and the farming this season. Significant work we are concentrating on is drip irrigation, water harvesting, plant care, and soil amendment. All of our participants are encouraged to take part in one of the many physical activities our Wellness Center has in place, and just working in a garden or field demands much physical work, that in it self is a great workout.

Sprawling squash at the ERNEH Project. Photo courtesy of Randy Chatto.

Which local traditional foods did you choose to cultivate, hunt, gather or plant for your program?   

We have planted Navajo yellow and white corn, Navajo gray and Navajo Hubbard squash, several types of summer squash, beans, chiles and onions.

A popular wild plant food is Navajo Tea which some families are starting to gather. Since we began our Hunter’s Safety education classes in collabortaion with the Navajo Nation Fish and Game department many of our community members have gone through the classes and recieved their Hunter’s Education certification. That allows those individuals to hunt big game such as Elk and Deer during hunting season.

 How has this project impacted your community?  
Many of our community members are excited to take part in a program that encourages them to plant, harvest and prepare their own healthy traditional plant foods. Many of our familes and even departments within our organization of the Ramah Navajo School Board are beginning to eat healthy in turn they are seeing and realizing the significance of the re-introduction of family gardens, community gardens and dry land farming.

What are your plans to sustain this project?  

This project is not a temporary spark for this community but a lifestyle deeply rooted in our Diné culture. We must continue this effort to eat healthy and keep moving. We must all lend a hand and be part of a voice in keeping our people healthy. We are our own resource and we need to continue to tap into it. The spirit of self sufficiency has always been with us but we have to carry on that community action. It’s about raising champions in every facet of our peoples’ lives; in body, in mind and in spirit!

Our soil is the most important and critical renewable resource in our community not only here but the entire planet. We need to pay attention to it, care for it, sustain it and in turn it too will care and sustain us. I believe that in order to develop a sustainable healthy community through planting we have to recognize the heart of our effort: our soil.

Composting 101

Randy Chatto has had great success with composting, enabling the ERNEH project to transform the arid soil into fertile ground. These photos were taken throughout the composting process. To learn more about this process and to uncover some of Randy’s secrets to composting, schedule a visit to to the Ramah Navajo Community and see the ERNEH project.

Step 1: Beginning of compost.

Step 2: Compost mixture.

Step 3: Complete/ready compost.

Special thanks to the Ramah Navajo Community’s ERNEH team,  particularly  Mr. Randy Chatto, Project Coordinator,  for sharing his time and stories. For more information on the ERNEH program, contact randy.chatto@ihs.gov.

Watch this beautiful digital story created by Randy Chatto for his community:


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