Health | ‘It’s all about wellness’: Ancient Wayves founder heating Diné homes
Ahxéhee’ she’awéé’, the men were told as they loaded up firewood for the elders during a firewood drive on Sunday in Tsé Łichíí’ Dah ‘Azkání.
Louis Williams told his friends who drove down from Sooléí to help that the elders were extending their profound respects and thanks.
“In the Navajo language, they called you their baby––thank you, my little one,” Williams translated. “They saw the thanks they were giving.”
Williams said his nonprofit, Heating Diné Homes, and its team of about 40 volunteers – from across southern Utah and parts of Western Navajo – get a lot of thanks and appreciation from people. And that’s what keeps him and his team going.
“We’re (Heating Diné Homes) is not an official 501(c)(3); we’re just a volunteer team,” said Williams, whose team and Salt Lake City-based Cultural Fire Events Inc. were in Red Mesa, Utah, Dec. 4.
He said his nonprofit’s mission is to help the elders and people who live in remote rural areas.
“It’s all about taking care of them and helping them because they’re going through a lot,” he said. “This time of year, too––the holiday season. We know our families, friends, relatives; they’re going through a lot. It’s really good to go out there and see smiles on their faces (and) to see the relief.”
Williams is originally from Tódinéeshzhee’. He is Bįįh Bitoodnii and born for Chippewa. His maternal grandfather is Tó Baazhní’ázhí, and his paternal grandfather is Naałání.
When the coronavirus cast a shadow over Diné Bikéyah in 2020, Williams and his family decided they needed to help older people and others who may struggle to prepare for cold weather and with supplies.
“That was our main reason: help out the families with supplies in rural areas of the Navajo Nation,” said Williams, owner of Ancient Wayves River and Hiking Adventures LLC, an outfitter that provides Native guides and gear for guests wanting to hike the Bears Ears region or float down the San Juan River.
“The main supply that we started out with was firewood,” he explained. “It evolved into food and (antiseptic) like hand sanitizer, which was needed during that time––even household cleaning products.”
Williams said Heat Diné Homes collected a lot of donations, from food and water to money and personal protective equipment. The organization’s efforts are documented on its GoFundMe online fundraising platform, which raised $12,400.
Heat Diné Homes hasn’t collected donations lately because the pandemic slowed down, and its volunteers – Ancient Wayves’ seasonal river guides – were busy on the San Juan this year.
“This past weekend, we planned a big (firewood) distribution, and our focus was on regions where the community doesn’t have too much access to any firewood,” Williams said. “A lot of the region encompassed Arizona residents and people (came) in from west Mexican Water area.
“So, we have been working with the local chapter houses when they ask,” he said.
The Heat Diné Homes team has made several firewood drop-offs at numerous locations in the region, including Kayenta, Tuba City, and Moenkopi Village, Arizona, and Westwater, Utah.
Williams said at the height of the Covid outbreak, during stay-at-home orders, his organization was given the green light to be on the roads for firewood pickups and delivery.
He added that Sunday’s firewood drive event motivated both organizations to do more and help more people.
“There’s plenty of wood out there, and there’s a lot of people with good hearts,” Williams said. “So, we just want to reach out and help them.
“Ancient Wayves, our message is ‘outdoor recreation,’ we’re trying to get people out there and see the wellness of it––the same thing with Heat Diné Homes, it’s very similar,” he said. “It’s all about wellness and we’re trying to spread a message to others. We want others to be encouraged to help their neighbors no matter who they are.”