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A reusable Nalgene water bottle designed by a 21-year-old Navajo college student has helped raise more than $14,000 for clean water projects on the reservation.
Jaden Redhair, a Stanford University senior who hails from the Navajo capital, Window Rock, Arizona, said he is “pleasantly surprised” at the bottle’s popularity.
The container features illustrations of Monument Valley, the Navajo Nation outline and the phrase “Tó éí iiná,” or “water is life.”
“Water’s very sacred and also very important in the community and important to our way of life,” Redhair said. “I was trying to incorporate the Navajo language to make it more connected to us, and not just as eye candy.”
The bottle launched in late 2020 and has funded work to provide clean water to reservation homes.
About 30% of Navajo residents don’t have running water, according to the U.S. Water Alliance.
Nalgene sales have contributed $14,500 to DigDeep for vehicle costs and driver certification. DigDeep installs water systems in Navajo homes and trucks water to remote reservation areas.
Nalgene also donated $30,000 to Community Outreach and Patient Empowerment to install six water filling stations.
Carmen George, a COPE research manager, said the group is considering Teec Nos Pos in northeastern Arizona as the first station site.
“We know we have to be very thoughtful about it, because the Navajo Nation government has (recently) installed several water stations, and we want community input so we can complement the work and not re-create it,” George said.
The donation included 90 large containers for transporting water from the access points.
Redhair first worked with COPE as a high school student, designing posters encouraging Navajo residents to drink water.
George said the public health campaign helped show that many Navajos “turn to sugary drinks” because they don’t trust their water supplies.
The group is embarking on a citizen science water testing program to help ease those concerns.
Navajo students loved the posters that featured former Miss Navajo Nation winners and local marathon runners, George said, and they continue to challenge their families to drink more water.
Since the bottle sales launched, Redhair has received social media messages from people all over the country sharing enthusiasm about contributing to the water projects.
“It’s cool to talk with these people and educate them about the Navajo Nation, and to see so many people really excited to help my people,” Redhair said.
Elissa McGee, general manager of Nalgene Outdoor, helped create the Nalgene Water Fund.
The initiative supports a community-led water testing lab in Flint, Michigan, as well as the Navajo projects.
“Both the design and the mission seem to be hitting a chord for people,” McGee said. “Water is such a fundamental human right.”
Redhair’s design recorded Nalgene’s highest day-of-launch bottle sales ever, McGee said, and continues to be one of the company’s best-selling products.
The “Water is Life” bottle is available at Nalgene’s website for $15, and $5 of each sale goes to the Navajo water projects.
Theresa Davis is a Report for America corps member covering water and the environment for the Albuquerque Journal.