The COVID-19 Outbreak in the Navajo Nation

Donovan Quintero

In March 2020, COVID-19 started ravaging the Navajo Nation, turning it into a national hot spot for the virus. The infection rate among Diné (Navajo people) was aggravated by several issues, including chronic underlying illnesses, food and water insecurity, and a lack of electricity among a third of households. Many Diné live in extended families where COVID-19 can spread quickly. There are often vast distances between households and towns, which can make it difficult for Diné to receive public health messages and medical assistance.

Donovan Quintero, a photojournalist for the Navajo Times - Diné bi Naaltsoos, has documented the pandemic’s impact throughout the Navajo Nation and the Diné’s response to it. He began documenting the pandemic when it first struck the reservation. In this photo essay, Quintero explores how the Diné have been impacted by the pandemic and how they have taken care of one another. His photos capture the vast expanse of the reservation and the isolation and resilience of the Diné. His essay also highlights the critical roles played by tribal council members, police, health care workers, and the unsung heroes of the pandemic. The essay ends with the COVID-19 vaccine rollout and Diné prayers for the future.

The National Museum of the American Indian thanks Duane A. Beyal, Editor-in-Chief, and Tommy Arviso, Jr., CEO/Publisher of the Navajo Times - Diné Bi Naaltsoos, for their support.

The museum also thanks Karen Mullarkey, photojournalism coach at the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at the City University of New York, for her much-appreciated input.

An Omen in the Sky

Chuska Mountains, Navajo Nation, July 10, 2020

A comet soars through the early morning sky in the Navajo Nation. The Diné (Navajo people) consider comets, eclipses, meteor showers, and other celestial events to be omens.

Since the arrival of the Spanish in the late 1500s, the Diné have suffered and endured many diseases and conditions, including the mumps, parotitis, rheumatic fever, pneumonia, measles, bronchitis, typhoid, malaria, chronic diarrhea, constipation, syphilis, influenza, and hantavirus. In 2020, the Diné were struck by a new deadly and unseen sickness they call ch’osh doo yit’iinii or ha’t’ííshíí na’ałniihi, commonly known as COVID-19.

In April 2020, photographer Donovan Quintero spoke to Diné star gazers, known as hataałii adéíst’į́į́’ ííł’ínígíí, about the virus. They said it was born from the ashes of mammals and reptiles that burned in the Australian fires in 2019. According to the hataałii adéíst’į́į́’ ííł’ínígíí, the ashes of the animals rose into the air, which weakened the ozone enough for cosmic rays to shoot an entity into the ocean. This caused the earth to open up and release an energy that impacted fish and other marine life before reaching the surface. Humans and other animals ate the fish. Soon the entity formed into a virus that first affected the mammal and reptile kingdoms before transforming to infect humans. The first person to be infected by the virus became sick and soon died. The virus then took on a new form. It became a ghost, said the hataałii adéíst’į́į́’ ííł’ínígíí. The ghost-virus then began its journey infecting the world. It hid in the darkness, making it hard to see. The hataałii adéíst’į́į́’ ííł’ínígíí said a number of ceremonies need to be performed in order to restore balance.

Photo © Donovan Quintero, 2020

COVID-19 in Indian Country

Native Americans and Alaska Natives throughout the United States have been disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic—across all age groups. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the number of lab-confirmed COVID-19 cases among Native Americans and Alaska Natives was 3.5 times higher than among the general population.

Native peoples in the United States have had the highest hospitalization rate among any racial and ethnic group in the country. There are multiple historic reasons for this. Most critically, Native Americans and Alaska Natives have higher rates of underlying chronic diseases than the general U.S. population. This health care crisis is, in no small measure, due to the failure of the United States to live up to its treaty obligations to Native Nations.

The United States signed a series of treaties with Native Nations, making promises in exchange for parts, or the entirety, of their sovereign territories. The U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly recognized these treaties as legally binding. The unmet treaty rights have contributed to enormous health disparities between Native Americans and the general U.S. population, including a lack of access to well-equipped and staffed medical facilities.

Public Health Message

Chinle, Arizona, Navajo Nation, July 10, 2020

The Navajo Nation encompasses 27,000 square miles and extends into parts of Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah. Many Diné must drive for hours to get to schools, grocery stores, post offices, gas stations, and medical services. Since the COVID-19 pandemic arrived in March 2020, the Navajo Nation Department of Health has issued public health orders to stop the spread of the virus. This billboard, in Navajo, instructs people to wash their hands. Other orders instruct Diné to wear masks, socially distance, and stay home unless conducting essential business. In the Navajo Nation, essential business may include getting food, hauling water and firewood, feeding livestock, or driving to the hospital in an emergency.

Photo © Donovan Quintero, 2020

Navajo Homestead

Sheep Springs, New Mexico, Navajo Nation, July 26, 2020

Much of the Navajo Nation’s terrain is rugged high desert. Many Diné live in extended family groups in remote areas that can only be reached by unpaved roads. Despite periodic monsoons, the Navajo Nation is in the midst of a “megadrought” caused by climate change, which has lasted more than 20 years. Even without the spread of COVID-19, drought conditions have made life for many Diné challenging. Diné families without running water must worry about where they are going to get water for themselves, their animals, and their fields.

Photo © Donovan Quintero, 2020

Miss Navajo Nation Distributing Food

Ganado, Arizona, Navajo Nation, October 2, 2020

Shaandiin Parrish, Miss Navajo Nation, takes a brief pause while distributing food to Ganado community members. A political science graduate from Arizona State University, Parrish was selected as Miss Navajo Nation in September 2019. Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, she has been traveling across the Navajo Nation distributing food to Diné families. Parrish was selected because of her embodiment of the Navajo values imparted to her during her Kinaaldá, or coming-of-age ceremony, as well as for her academic accomplishments. She may continue holding the Miss Navajo Nation title into 2022 if the annual contest continues to be postponed because of the pandemic.

Photo © Navajo Times, 2020

Casting Early Ballots

Chinle, Arizona, Navajo Nation, October 19, 2020

As elsewhere across the United States, Navajo Nation voters waited in line, socially distancing, to cast their early ballots in the 2020 presidential elections. While many Diné were passionate Donald Trump and Mike Pence supporters, the Diné vote helped secure Joe Biden and Kamala Harris’s victory. According to the Arizona Secretary of State, 52,307 Diné voters in Apache and Navajo counties helped flip the state from Republican to Democrat.

Photo © Navajo Times, 2020

Volunteer Wood Cutters

South of Thoreau, New Mexico, Navajo Nation, January 8, 2021

Volunteer Zachariah Ben from Shiprock, New Mexico, in the Navajo Nation, cuts a log into firewood. Ben is part of the Chizh for Cheii group, which translates to “wood for grandfather.” Diné actor Loren Anthony created the group to deliver wood to elderly Diné unable to gather it themselves. According to Anthony, their wood hauling efforts have increased during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Photo © Navajo Times, 2021

Unsheltered Relatives Sleep Outside

Gallup, New Mexico, July 7, 2020

Two homeless men, referred to as “unsheltered relatives” by many Diné, sleep outside the Perry Null Trading Company. Unsheltered relative Shawn Arthur was told by his family not to return home until the pandemic ended. “I tried going back,” he said. “They told me, ‘Nope, you stay in Gallup. You stay there until this is over with.’ They dropped off my clothes and I carry it around now.”

Unsheltered relatives have had it especially hard since a COVID-19 outbreak at the Gallup Detox Center in April 2020. More than 100 people, including Diné, were exposed to the highly contagious respiratory virus.

Photo © Donovan Quintero, 2020

Black Lives Matter Protest

Albuquerque, New Mexico, May 31, 2020

Ryla Becenti, from Sawmill, Arizona, in the Navajo Nation, carries her skateboard during a rally protesting the death of George Floyd. Floyd died days earlier while being arrested by Minneapolis police officers. Becenti and other Diné took to the streets, chanting, “Say his name!” and “No justice, no peace!”

Photo © Donovan Quintero, 2020

Diné Elder at Home

Wide Ruins, Arizona, Navajo Nation, November 27, 2020

Harrison Kee, 60, coughs into his hand while speaking about the holes in the roof of his hogan, or traditional Diné home. Kee’s hogan is badly in need of repair. He has placed plastic over the roof to keep the rain and snow out. According to Navajo Nation Police Officer Marwin Joe, Kee takes his ax and wheelbarrow into the nearby woods to chop and collect wood, which he burns to cook and stay warm. Despite volunteers bringing Kee wood, food, and water, his hogan still threatens to cave in.

Photo © Navajo Times, 2020

Diné Family on Horseback

Ganado, Arizona, Navajo Nation, June 28, 2020

A Diné family, out for an excursion, ride their horses over Arizona State Highway 264 to maintain a healthy lifestyle and mental outlook. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Diné families have had to endure more curfews than any other people in the United States. The Navajo Nation instituted a 57-hour weekend lockdown from Friday evening to Monday morning as well as nightly curfews beginning at 8 or 9 p.m. and ending at 5 a.m.

Photo © Navajo Times, 2020

Center of the Outbreak

Chilchinbeto, Arizona, Navajo Nation, March 17, 2020

A water tank towers over the small community of Chilchinbeto, where the first known COVID-19 case was reported on the reservation. According to the Navajo Nation Department of Health, the outbreak began at a church gathering on March 7, 2020. Dozens of people from several communities attended the service. Two of them reportedly have died.

Photo © Navajo Times, 2020

Navajo Nation Council Meeting

Window Rock, Arizona, Navajo Nation, July 21, 2020

Speaker of the Navajo Nation Council Seth Damon (center) conducts a meeting from the council’s chamber via telecommunications. By May 2020, the Navajo Nation was considered one of the country’s worst COVID-19 hot spots. By then, the Navajo Nation Council’s 24 delegates had already begun conducting council, committee, and subcommittee meetings virtually.

Photo © Navajo Times, 2020

Traffic Checkpoint

Tse Bonito, New Mexico, Navajo Nation, December 31, 2020

Navajo Nation police officers stop cars at a checkpoint on New Mexico State Highway 264 on New Year’s Eve. The Navajo Nation Police Department is highly respected on the reservation. Since March 2020, they have enforced nightly and weekend curfews, the mandatory wearing of face masks in public, and closure of nonessential businesses.

Photo © Navajo Times, 2020

Diné Artist Working at Home

Church Rock, New Mexico, Navajo Nation, December 12, 2020

Ernest Sleuth, an accomplished gourd stitch bead worker, takes a coffee break while working from home. His beaded cylindrical containers sit on his well-lit worktable. Sleuth planned to move into an apartment in Gallup, New Mexico, but had to postpone the move because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead, he has been living in a relative’s dilapidated trailer, which lacks running water. He is trying to make money from his beadwork, but opportunities to sell it have dwindled during the pandemic. Sleuth uses an electric grill to cook his food and warm his water.

Photo © Navajo Times, 2020

Hubble Trading Post Stop Sign

Ganado, Arizona, Navajo Nation, March 21, 2020

A road barrier and stop sign block the road to the Hubbell Trading Post, which has been closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Opened in 1878, the Hubbell Trading Post is the oldest operating trading post in the Navajo Nation. Diné artists have long sold their art here and at other trading posts. The closure of these trading posts, imposed by a public health order, is having a detrimental economic impact on artists and their families.

Photo © Navajo Times, 2020

Delivering Drinking Water

Jeddito, Arizona, Navajo Nation, October 14, 2020

Navajo Nation Council Delegate Vince James holds bucket lids as a volunteer fills buckets with drinking water. James, who represents the Jeddito community, has been delivering water to his elderly constituents since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. He has been assisted by Zoel Zohnnie, founder of Collective Medicine, a Native American network whose purpose is to gather resources that benefit and comfort Native people. Without running water, the frequent washing of hands—prescribed by the CDC—is difficult at best.

Photo © Navajo Times, 2020

Shutting Down a Church Revival Meeting

Gallup, New Mexico, June 26, 2020

Gallup Fire Marshal Jesus Morales (left) speaks to a pastor who pitched a tent to hold a church revival in Gallup, New Mexico. Many Diné visit and live in the area. Morales informed the pastor of New Mexico’s public health order prohibiting mass gatherings. Acknowledging the health risk, the pastor agreed to conduct services outside the tent with people remaining in their vehicles. Religious gatherings have been considered inherently risky during the pandemic. The Navajo tribe’s COVID-19 outbreak has been traced to a church gathering in Chilchinbeto, Arizona, on March 7, 2020. Chilchinbeto is located 136 miles northwest of Gallup.

Photo © Donovan Quintero, 2020

Navajo Mine

Southeast of Shiprock, New Mexico, Navajo Nation, January 10, 2020

A dragline excavator, capable of moving tons of earth at a time, digs for coal in the Navajo Mine. The coal is used to power the nearby Four Corners Power Plant. The mine is owned and operated by the Navajo Transitional Energy Company, a Navajo-owned company. It is a major employer in the area and one of very few whose operations have remained uninterrupted throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

Photo © Donovan Quintero, 2020

Twin Arrows Casino Resort

Flagstaff, Arizona, September 4, 2020

A plexiglass barrier, installed on a blackjack table at the Twin Arrows Casino Resort, prepares the casino for reopening. The Navajo Nation Gaming Enterprise operates four casinos: Twin Arrows, Fire Rock, Northern Edge, and Flowing Water. The casinos are major employers. Their temporary closure, though necessary, has been a serious economic hardship on the reservation.

Photo © Navajo Times, 2020

Makeshift Classroom

Fish Point, Arizona, Navajo Nation, October 19, 2020

Milton T. Carroll and Wylean Burbank help their daughter Kyla with her schoolwork in a makeshift outdoor classroom. Kyla is a first-grader at Cottonwood Day School, a Bureau of Indian Education school. Carrol constructed the makeshift classroom on top of a hill near their home so that, hopefully, the family could receive cell phone reception and Wi-Fi service. Having neither in their home, their daughter was unable to do her homework. Carroll later modified the classroom by expanding the walls and adding a woodstove for warmth. As of February 2021, the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority was trying to install Wi-Fi service in their home.

Photo © Navajo Times, 2020

Delivering Water and Food

Pine Springs, Arizona, and Standing Rock, New Mexico, Navajo Nation, September 25 and May 11, 2020

Food and water insecurity have been two of the major contributors to the spread of COVID-19 in the Navajo Nation. Keana Kaleikini and Zoel Zohnnie of the volunteer network Collective Medicine have delivered more than 167,000 gallons of water to Diné families. They have also donated 20 275-gallon water totes to families who lacked drinking water containers. New Mexico’s National Guard has delivered hundreds of pallets of food to the Standing Rock Chapter House alone. This food has been distributed to Diné communities as far as 80 miles away.

Photos © Navajo Times, 2020

Addressing the Navajo Nation

Window Rock, Arizona, Navajo Nation, April 20, 2020

Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez gives his State of the Nation Address from his son’s bedroom on the last day of a 14-day quarantine. Both President Nez and Navajo Nation Vice President Myron Lizer were exposed to COVID-19 during a visit to Tuba City, Arizona. President Nez reported that there had been 1,104 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 45 deaths in the Navajo Nation since the outbreak began the previous month. Nez also reported on the efforts of the Navajo Nation COVID-19 Preparedness Team and the Navajo Nation Council to minimize the spread of the virus.

Photo © Navajo Times, 2020

Making Nitrile Gloves

Church Rock, New Mexico, Navajo Nation, March 25, 2020

Rhino Health employee Nizhoni Long (left) and her coworkers produce medical-grade nitrile gloves. Since the COVID-19 pandemic started, the company has been making 8,000 gloves an hour. The pandemic caused a nationwide shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE). This forced health care workers and first responders, including police officers and emergency medical technicians, to reuse their PPE while combatting the virus. Rhino Health was regularly backlogged three to four weeks as it supplied the Navajo Nation, New York, New Mexico, New Jersey, and Wisconsin with gloves.

Photo © Navajo Times, 2020

Assisting Those in Need

Window Rock, New Mexico, Navajo Nation, October 1, 2020

Navajo Nation Council Delegate Eugenia Charles-Newton explains how $714 million in Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act funds will be allocated in the Navajo Nation. Together with Council Delegate Vince James, Charles-Newton sponsored the Navajo CARES Act Hardship Assistance Program. The program paid up to $1,350 to adults and $400 to minors with an estimated total of $324 million. Approximately 225,000 Diné applied for the much-needed funds.

Photo © Navajo Times, 2020

Unsheltered Relatives at a Car Wash

Gallup, New Mexico, August 11, 2020

Two homeless men, referred to as “unsheltered relatives” by many Diné, wash themselves and their clothing at a car wash. Although highly vulnerable, unsheltered relatives received little help from social services until well into the COVID-19 pandemic. Volunteer social workers have been offering to take their temperatures, as a first step, to see if they have contracted COVID-19.

Photo © Donovan Quintero, 2020

Investigating a Suspected COVID-19 Death

Window Rock, Arizona, Navajo Nation, November 17, 2020

Navajo Nation Police Officer Shawna Watchman (left) sanitizes Navajo Nation Criminal Investigator Gilbert Yazzie as he prepares to investigate a suspected COVID-19-related death. As of March 6, 2021, the Navajo Nation Department of Health (NNDOH) reported that 29,857 Diné have contracted the virus and 1,198 have died from it.

Photo © Navajo Times, 2020

The Race for Cleaning Supplies

Gallup, New Mexico, March 11, 2020

Gallup Police Captain Erin Toadlena-Pablo shops for spray bottles at Home Depot to use for cleaning and disinfecting. Her hair is tied in a tsklólh, or traditional Navajo bun. Less than a month later, a COVID-19 outbreak in the small city of Gallup, which borders the Navajo Nation, exposed more than 100 people to the virus. In response to the outbreak, New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham invoked the Riot Control Act to lock down the city for a week.

Photo © Navajo Times, 2020

Funeral of Navajo Nation Police Officer Michael Lee

Chinle, Arizona, Navajo Nation, June 25, 2020

Grief-stricken, Navajo Nation Police Officer Chasity Billy watches the funeral procession for her fallen colleague Officer Michael Lee, who worked with the Chinle District. Officer Lee died on June 19, 2020, at Banner University Medical Center in Phoenix, Arizona, from COVID-19. Navajo Nation Police Chief Phillip Francisco remembered Officer Lee putting smiles on kids’ faces at Christmas while handing out toys in the police department’s Toys for Tots program.

Photo © Donovan Quintero, 2020

Navajo Nation Police Honor Guard

Chinle, Arizona, Navajo Nation, June 25, 2020

Fellow officers salute fallen Navajo Nation Police Officer Michael Lee, whose casket is escorted by the Navajo Nation Police Honor Guard. Officer Lee graduated from the Navajo Law Enforcement Academy in Toyei, Arizona, in 1990, and served in the Navajo Nation Police Department for 29 years. A husband and father, he was the first Arizona police officer to die in the line of duty from COVID-19.

Photo © Navajo Times, 2020

Paying Their Respects

Chinle, Arizona, Navajo Nation, June 25, 2020

A trio of respectful Diné onlookers watch Navajo Nation Police Officer Michael Lee’s burial services from a safe distance.

Photo © Navajo Times, 2020

Caring for Unsheltered Relatives

Gallup, New Mexico, March 13, 2020

Police officers and emergency medical technicians help an elderly intoxicated man in the middle of the night. Government agencies and nonprofit organizations, including Indian Health Services, the Gallup Police Department, the Gallup Detox Center, and Rehoboth McKinley Christian Health Care Services, joined forces to help protect unsheltered relatives from COVID-19 and exposure during the winter months. Those who test positive for COVID-19 are housed in hotels.

Photo © Donovan Quintero, 2020

Helping COVID-19 Patients

Ganado, Arizona, Navajo Nation, December 15, 2020

Health care workers wheel a gurney into the Sage Memorial Hospital to evacuate a COVID-19 patient by helicopter. There are five Indian Health Service hospitals in the Navajo Nation and seven full-time health centers serving about 160,000 people. Sage Memorial Hospital is the first Native-managed private health care hospital in the country. It serves 23,000 Diné. Critically ill COVID-19 patients are often transported to medical facilities outside the Navajo Nation.

Photo © Donovan Quintero, 2020

COVID-19 Testing Station

Shiprock, New Mexico, Navajo Nation, November 20, 2020

Northern Navajo Medical Center workers staff an outdoor COVID-19 testing station for community members. Located in the Four Corners area of the Navajo Nation, the center is the reservation’s largest Indian Health Service center. It serves more than 80,000 people, most of whom are Diné. According to the Navajo Nation Department of Health, more than 250,000 COVID-19 tests have been administered in the Navajo Nation as of the end of March 2021.

Photo © Navajo Times, 2020

Drinking Water

Gallup, New Mexico, April 25, 2020

A thirsty health care worker lifts her mask to take a much-needed drink of water in between testing people for COVID-19. By May 2020, the Navajo Nation had tested more people per capita for COVID-19 than many states, including New York and California.

Photo © Navajo Times, 2020

An Exhausted “Long-Hauler”

Phoenix, Arizona, September 10, 2020

Emergency room nurse Tyra Street rests her forehead in her hand while trying to think of a word. Until recently, Street, who is Oglala Sioux, worked at Phoenix Indian Medical Center, which serves many Diné patients. She was diagnosed with COVID-19 in March 2020 after coming down with a dry cough and a high fever that hit her “like a storm.” Since then, she has been dealing with the long-term effects of the virus, including joint pains, loss of taste and smell, and forgetfulness. Street has been an ER nurse for ten years, working with patients with contagious diseases, such as HIV, hepatitis B, tuberculosis, and pneumonia.

Photo © Navajo Times, 2020

Cleaning and Disinfecting

Gallup, New Mexico, November 13 and June 29, 2020

Cleaning and disinfecting surfaces have taken on a new urgency, even for those unsung heroes in the medical profession, for whom it is a daily routine.

A public service officer with the Gallup Police Department uses bleach to sanitize the back of his van after transporting a COVID-19-infected unsheltered relative to the Gallup Detox Center.

Rehoboth McKinley Christian Health Care Services housekeeper Edith Sherman sanitizes the hospital’s emergency room. For the past two years, Sherman has made sure the emergency department—especially the patients’ rooms—were cleaned, sometimes up to eight times a day. “People trust us that come out here to the hospital,” she said. “They trust us with their lives.”

Photos © Navajo Times, 2020

Prepping to Administer the COVID-19 Vaccine

Ganado, Arizona, Navajo Nation, December 15, 2020

A Sage Memorial Hospital health care worker wipes her hands with hand sanitizer as she prepares to administer a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine. According to the hospital, all 165 of its employees had been vaccinated by the end of February 2021 as well as about 6,000 of the patients it serves.

Photo © Navajo Times, 2020

Getting Vaccinated

Thoreau, New Mexico, Navajo Nation, January 12, 2021

Edison Sloan, 72, sits quietly as Vicky Charley, a registered nurse at the Crownpoint Service Unit, gives him the first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine. He is accompanied by his daughter, Leah Sloan. On the same day, between 120 and 150 other senior citizens also received their first dose of the two-dose vaccine. As of the beginning of March 2021, more than 142,000 doses had been administered across the Navajo Nation and nearly 52,000 Diné had been fully immunized.

Photo © Navajo Times, 2021

The COVID-19 Vaccine Arrives

Ganado, Arizona, Navajo Nation, December 14, 2020

Commander Erica Harker with the U.S. Public Health Service places vials of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine into a container at the Sage Memorial Hospital. Commander Harker told staff at the Navajo-administered hospital that they were receiving 165 doses to vaccinate their frontline workers. The first vials of the vaccine were delivered to the Navajo Nation in December 2020.

Photo © Navajo Times, 2020

Protesting the COVID-19 Vaccine

Window Rock, Arizona, Navajo Nation, October 2, 2020

Protesters voice their opposition to the COVID-19 vaccine. Although the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use, some Diné remain concerned about its safety. As of April 2021, the Navajo Nation’s vaccination program is well underway, and a great many Diné have been vaccinated.

Photo © Donovan Quintero, 2020

COVID-19 Vaccination Drive

Thoreau, New Mexico, Navajo Nation, January 12, 2021

Dr. Gauri Badrish with the Crownpoint Health Service Unit carefully fills a needle with the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine during a vaccination drive for Diné aged 65 and over.

Photo © Navajo Times, 2021

Dook’o’oosłÍÍd (San Francisco Peaks)

Bird Springs, Arizona, Navajo Nation, January 9, 2021

Driving back from an assignment one day, photographer Donovan Quintero noticed the sunlight painting the snow-capped Dook’o’oosłííd (San Francisco Peaks). He pulled over and captured this photo.

Dook’o’oosłííd, which can be translated as “the top is shining,” is one of six mountains sacred to the Diné. The Diné view the mountains as their protectors. Dook’o’oosłííd is located to the west, Sis Naajiní (Blanca Peak) to the east, Tsoodził (Mount Taylor) to the south, and Dibé Nstaa (Hesperus Mountain) to the north of the Navajo Nation. Dził Ná’oodiłii (Huérfano Mountain) and Ch’óol’į́į́’ or Dził Ch’óol’į́’į́’ (Gobernador Knob) are at the center of the Navajo Nation. Traditional Diné religious leaders and herbalists have been performing ceremonies at Dook’o’oosłííd to help combat the COVID-19 pandemic and restore balance and harmony to people’s lives.

Photo © Donovan Quintero, 2021

Donovan Quintero, Photo by Glenda Wheeler.

Photo © Glenda Wheeler, 2020

Donovan Quintero

Award-winning photojournalist Donovan Quintero was born in the Navajo Nation. Since 2005, he has worked for the Navajo Times - Diné Bi Naaltsoos, covering news, sports, and feature stories. Quintero served in the U.S. Navy and traveled widely before returning to his roots, herding sheep, and learning his first language: Diné. Quintero got his start in journalism at the Gallup Independent and the Daily Times in Farmington, New Mexico. After a conversation with legendary Diné photographer Paul Natonabah, Quintero decided that he would do his most meaningful work at the Navajo Times - Diné Bi Naaltsoos.

Photographer’s Statement

My beliefs and philosophies have been shaped by the vastness and rugged beauty of the Navajo Nation and hearing and speaking my Diné language. I do my best to incorporate my traditional beliefs into my approach to photography and, especially, to writing. I believe that one person can make a difference, can influence society to change for the better, and that motivates me. Shi Dine’é, my people, have something to say and show the world, and that is why I am a photojournalist.

—Donovan Quintero

Curator Interview with Donovan Quintero

Interview transcript