Naschitti Chapter replaces homes lost in Assayii Lake Fire

Project paid for by nearly $800k in supplemental funding

Noel Lyn Smith
Farmington Daily Times
Jerone Willeto walks toward his new home Tuesday in Ch'ooshgai Mountain's Naschitti Chapter area. Burned trees from the 2014 Asaayii Lake Fire are seen in the background.

NASCHITTI — Emma Roanhorse sat on a log Tuesday a few feet from the remains of a cabin she had lived in while spending her summers on Ch'ooshgai Mountain.

For years, the 86-year-old had moved her sheep each summer to the forest area from the flatland below to take advantage of the grazing the area provided. But that changed in June 2014 when the Assayii Lake Fire burned the cabin, as well as a nearby hogan and corral, and the surrounding vegetation.

The fire originated in the Bowl Canyon Recreation Area in the Crystal Chapter, then traveled east to the Naschitti Chapter. It consumed 14,712 acres.

Roanhorse returned to the location on Tuesday to receive the keys to a new portable building that was purchased, delivered and placed at the site by Naschitti Community Governance, which serves as the chapter government, as part of a project to replace structures lost in the fire.

Emma Roanhorse is presented the keys to her new home by Albert Natonabah, left, and Navajo Nation Council Delegate Steven Begay Tuesday in Ch'ooshgai Mountain's Naschitti Chapter area.

The effort to help chapter members was funded by $764,408 in supplemental funding to the chapter government. The amount was approved this year by the Navajo Nation Council and tribal President Russell Begaye.

Kelvin Crawford, Roanhorse's nephew, talked about the destroyed cabin while standing next to its foundation, which is all that remains of the building.

"It had a porch with steps coming down this way," he said.

Jean Crawford, Roanhorse's niece and primary caregiver, said her aunt shared the area with her brother and sister, both of whom died after the fire.

"She took care of sheep until her early 80s. … I remember coming here to visit, and she was always on horseback, taking care of the sheep," Crawford said.

Navajo Nation Speaker LoRenzo Bates tours the interior of a newly constructed hogan Tuesday in Ch'ooshgai Mountain's Naschitti Chapter area.

She added her aunt did not see the damage caused by the fire until she visited the site a year later.

"She was devastated by the way the place looked. She was grateful that they put something back to replace it," Crawford said about the building.

Tribal council Delegate Steven Begay, who represents the chapter, and Speaker LoRenzo Bates visited several chapter members' summer residences and received updates about the project from chapter personnel on Tuesday.

Begay also presented keys for the new home to Roanhorse, who responded by saying, "Ahéhee'," the Navajo word for thank you.

Ethann Becenti and his father Brandon Becenti explore a rebuilt home Tuesday in Ch'ooshgai Mountain's Naschitti Chapter area.

Albert Natonabah, the project manager, said the buildings were purchased after the tribe's finance department released the supplemental funding to the chapter government in late May.

Workers enhanced the structures by placing them on a concrete foundation and adding tile floors, insulation, drywall, paint, security doors and bars, gravel, and rain gutters.

In addition, workers built two hogans with material that had been donated to the project.

Documentation of the fire damage submitted by the chapter's Assayi Lake Fire Committee to tribal lawmakers proposed the construction of the new structures.

Natonabah said project organizers decided to use prefabricated buildings for the project because there was an Aug. 31 deadline for using the funds and because they had concerns about late-summer weather conditions.

Navajo Nation Council Delegate Steven Begay talks about rebuilding homes after the 2014 Asaayii Lake Fire Tuesday in Ch'ooshgai Mountain's Naschitti Chapter area.

"It guaranteed we would get it done by the time that we were given. We've been working every day, just going, going, going," he said.

The effort to secure supplemental funding from the Unreserved Undesignated Fund Balance to replace structures lost in the fire was initiated in January 2016 by former Delegate Mel R. Begay.

After Steven Begay became the chapter's delegate in April 2017, he reintroduced legislation seeking funding for the project.

The new structures were nestled among surrounding pine and aspen trees during the tour on Tuesday.

Jerone Willetto poses next to his rebuilt home Tuesday in Ch'ooshgai Mountain's Naschitti Chapter area.

At the final stop, Patricia Begay was handed the keys to her new summer home by Bates.

Included in the packet Begay received was a tribal certificate for occupancy, GPS coordinates for the building's location and a 20-year warranty for the structure.

"This is yours," Bates said.

After taking the keys, Begay paused, then said, "I'm sure my grandchildren will enjoy it. They like to be up here."

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 or by email at