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For multiple tens-of-thousands of years (if not longer) the Din people (as the Navajo people refer to themselves), have inhabited a vast area, spanning over lands renamed by colonizers as Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, and Colorado. Their present sovereign nation is a fraction of their original territory, yet, still, they are the largest, most populous tribal nation within the borders of the United States. Coded within the Din language are centuries of culture: ecological knowledge, ceremonial knowledge, teachings of beauty and balance, peace-making practices. These ways have been passed down, generation to generation, despite efforts of colonizers over the past centuries to displace and eradicate the people and their culture. To this day, the Din strive to keep their language and culture alive. Of great importance are the Elders and Medicine People who carry the deepest cultural memory.

I met my partner, Miriam Dror, 16 years ago out on the windswept landscape of the Painted Desert. We both were working on the reservation, she as a school counselor in a small, remote community, I as a builder working on community self-sufficiency projects. Neither of us are native and we both were deeply inspired by what little we had learned of Din culture and its guidance for "walking in Beauty." Miriam had developed many close relationships during her years working with Din people, and those connections have remained strong over the past 14 years since we moved to Vermont. Miriam travels back there once or twice a year to work at the Little Singer Community School and she has facilitated frequent visits of Din people to Vermont to share their culture in a variety of contexts, notably annual participation in the Conflict Transformation Across Cultures (CONTACT) program at the SIT Graduate Institute.

I offer all this as background to the current situation on the Din Nation and the up-swelling of compassionate response we have witnessed amongst our friends, relatives, and, increasingly, folks we have not yet met. As many who follow the news are aware, coronavirus has hit the Navajo Nation harder than any other region on the continent. The challenge is fearsome and there are many factors contributing to their vulnerabilities, including that long history of oppression by U.S. policy. But rather than detailing that (important as that information is), what prompts me to write today is what Miriam and I have experienced over the past two months. Let me explain:

Miriam called her friend Sharon, living in Kaibeto, a remote community on the Din Nation, to find out how she and her community were faring. Not well, it turned out. Sharon and her own family were well, but there was a lot of illness and death in the community, especially among the elders. No aid was coming in from anywhere — none of the promised federal funds and Navajo government funds, already stretched too thin. Sharon and a few of her friends had organized a local volunteer relief effort, started a GoFundMe, and were able to start bringing food boxes to those in greatest need. Personal protective equipment and proper cleaning supplies, however, were non-existent. "What do you need?" Miriam asked. Sharon gave us a list. Miriam and I contacted our local friends, thinking that if a bunch of us purchased what we could of Clorox wipes, masks, diapers and such, we could ship a few boxes and be of some help.

As it turned out, our friends and families wanted to give much more than a few purchased items. They wanted to write checks. After checking with Sharon and her team, we decided to use our small local nonprofit (Alliance for Building Community) to send 100 percent of proceeds to her team (whereas GoFundMe takes a cut). We quickly raised $14,000, this just from friends and family, enabling the Kaibeto Covid Relief Team to drive their trucks and horse trailers down to Phoenix to make bulk purchases of food and supplies. Imagine our delight and relief when the Kaibeto folks sent us a video slide show of their trip to Navajo Mountain, a very rugged, remote community, to deliver supplies that would enable residents to stay home more and minimize contact with the virus. Seeing the pictures of the elders, in their traditional dress, receiving these gifts - gifts which could save lives and help preserve their culture, moved us to tears.

Compassion is sometimes talked about as a one-way experience: one feels the distress of another and is motivated to do something about it. But it seems there is something more going on here. Many of our friends have had the opportunity to meet our Din friends during their visits to Vermont over these past 14 years. They have heard but, more importantly, felt something of the Din spirit and culture. Could it be that this compassionate outpouring of donations was motivated by something bigger than alleviating the suffering wrought by COVID-19? Could it be that we, non-indigenous people, are beginning to understand the value of cultural ways that actually co-evolved with the landscapes inhabited? Are we motivated to act compassionately not only for the sake of the vulnerable, but also for the sake of keeping alive these cultures which carry with them such wisdom? Perhaps our compassion also carries with it a seed of reciprocity, a growing receptivity to listening to our indigenous elders and, in turn, increasing the likelihood of a compassionate future for all of us and for future generations.

We are still accepting donations through our nonprofit, with all proceeds going to the Kaibeto Covid Relief Team. The pandemic is not over, not by a long shot. We can make a difference. Make checks payable to Alliance for Building Community and Mail to: Miriam Dror, 24-East West Rd., East Dummerston, VT 05346. Email contact: (Would you like to see the video/slide show?) Please include your email if you'd like a receipt and updates.

With Brattleboro voting overwhelmingly to become part of the international Charter for Compassion, the Reformer and The Commons have agreed to publish a "compassion story of the month." This is the 37th. Submissions, from Brattleboro area residents, for future publication, not to exceed 650 words, should be emailed to: or mailed to: Compassion Story of the Month, PO Box 50, Marlboro, VT 05344. Include your name, address, phone number and email address. Earlier submitted stories will automatically be considered in subsequent months.