‘Social media is the only thing’: Social worker puts passion into practice with ‘We are Navajo’
By Stacy Thacker
Special to the Times
SAULT STE. MARIE, Minn.
Sexual and mental health information can be scarce on the Navajo Nation. Talk of depression and anxiety can also seem taboo.
So Pfawnn Eskee, creator and director of We Are Navajo, dedicated a website and social media platforms to get information out to the Navajo community about what sexual and mental health looks like and where to find resources.
The organization is part of her work with the Utah Navajo Health System, where she is a licensed clinical social worker.
We Are Navajo has become a 24/7 passion project for Eskee. She’s a one-woman show and always on the clock. But she doesn’t mind.
“Social Media isn’t a 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. kind of thing,” she said. “I get messages late at night, on the weekends.”
Before the pandemic, We Are Navajo distributed mostly health information and community events across the Navajo Nation. But now it’s distributing lockdown information, operating hours for businesses and where to find vaccination sites.
“For some people, social media is the only thing they access right now on a daily basis,” she said, adding they’ve grown during the pandemic, gaining about 8,000 followers on Facebook as well as other social media platforms. Traffic is also high on their website.
We Are Navajo started about two or three years ago after Eskee learned about an organization, We Are Native, at a conference in Portland. They were doing community work and she wanted to integrate that idea for the Navajo community.
We Are Native offered to help and once she got approval from Utah Navajo Health System, she began posting and never looked back.
Originally the idea was to focus on the Utah portion of the Navajo Nation but a year and a half ago they expanded their reach to cover the whole Navajo Nation.
“The goal is to educate more people about everything,” Eskee said. “Whether that’s health or issues going on right now with Covid.”
Eskee creates most content but also borrows from other accounts.
“It’s just me looking through social media and seeing what’s going viral or something that I think is educational and needs to be out there,” she said, adding she always gets permission to repost.
When the pandemic started, she knew the community needed more than information – they needed food and supplies. Monetary donations began to flow in and so did masks and canned foods.
Waking up before dawn, in the middle of a pandemic, to go shopping in Farmington and Cortez became Eskee’s routine for five to six months.
She would fill up shopping carts at Walmart, Safeway and Sam’s Club, come home and unload her haul with the help of her mom and nieces.
She’s stayed up well past midnight putting relief packages together. Then in the morning she’d drive to communities across the Navajo Nation and pass out care packages.
“It started off as a small little basket and it turned into this big 50-pound bin of things,” she said.
The relief packages included nonperishable foods and fresh apples, oranges and necessities such as toothbrushes, thermometers, paper towels and even coloring books.
Those 50-pound bins put her out of commission when she suffered a back injury. But with monetary donations still coming in and knowing the community was in need, she found a new way to help.
“After that I just started going out to Walmart, Bashas’, City Market and finding grandparents and single parents who were there and just started paying for their groceries,” she said.
People were surprised and they weren’t sure what she was doing or why but she knew it was the best way to keep helping.
Eskee grew up in Red Mesa, Arizona. She came home to provide her community and surrounding area with services that aren’t always readily available.
As a licensed clinical social worker, Eskee hopes to provide her community with safe space and resources.
“I knew when I was a teenager around here I felt like I couldn’t talk to my family about certain things and when I started going to therapy as a teenager, I felt that that changed the trajectory of my life,” she said.
“My therapist changed my life,” she said. “I wanted to do that for someone else.”
Eskee said she wished she had a Native American or Navajo therapist who understood her background. She hopes she can bring comfort to those who seek it.
She’s trying to help her community as much as she can, in as many ways as she can, she said.
She hopes to reach and help as many people as possible through her clinical social work as well as through We Are Navajo.