Stick a nav pin in it: 3,113 Navajo Nation homes now have a Utah address
It’s easy to take a home address for granted. But without it, lots of everyday things become complicated or nearly impossible.
Registering to vote. Getting online deliveries. Making sure a fire truck can find you.
That was the reality for many in the Navajo Nation before the Rural Utah Project’s Daylene Redhorse began going door to door in southeast Utah with her little blue address plates in 2019. Four years later, the advocacy organization has assigned addresses to 3,113 homes, essentially all the residences that lacked one in the region.
“I am just overjoyed,” Redhorse said. “I think everybody deserves a physical address.”
The initial goal was to make sure Navajo voters were registered to vote in the correct precinct. Redhorse noticed that her registration mistakenly placed her within a district north of Bluff even though she lived south of town. She soon realized a lack of address impacted much more than voting rights. When her mother had a stroke, for example, there was no easy way to tell the 911 dispatcher how to get an ambulance there.
“We lost a whole hour. My mom lost speech, mobility,” Redhorse said. “I don't wish that upon anybody.”
Many of the roads in this part of the Navajo Nation — which covers more than 1 million acres in Utah’s southeast corner — don’t have official street names, she said. So residents would typically just give out directions based on mileposts and nearby landmarks rather than providing a physical address. That system would work fine if they were talking to someone who lived in the area, but it could cause glitches with government databases.
So the Rural Utah Project gave each home a plus code. That’s a number system developed by Google that pinpoints a building’s location based on longitude and latitude rather than a street name and house number.
She’s already seen the plus codes improve people’s lives. One man is now able to get in-home dialysis. School liaisons can make more visits to students’ families. An auto mechanic no longer needs to drive 45 miles to pick up parts that can be shipped to his house. Other residents reached out to her to get a plus code for filing taxes, getting insurance or registering a vehicle.
Navajo Nation Human Rights Commission public information officer Tiffany Bah Charley has seen plus codes work first-hand in rural New Mexico, where her code has helped deliveries find their way to her home.
“I believe it's going to be a great benefit for the Navajo people,” she said. “It'll make a lot of difference.”
The project’s experience installing the codes on a large scale in Utah could help inform the Nation’s ongoing efforts to address more buildings in rural Arizona and New Mexico, too.
“It'll be a good, positive impact for them to utilize plus codes to start marking where chapter houses are, where community centers are, where some schools are and where residents reside,” she said.
Beyond the immediate benefits, Redhorse of the Rural Utah Project said, her ultimate goal with this project is to remind the state of Utah how many Navajo citizens live here. Some residents live so close to Arizona and so far from the nearest Utah city, she said, they’ve often used a mailing address at an out-of-state post office.
Now that more of her neighbors are registered to vote in the right Utah district, she said, the next step is to increase Navajo representation in local politics.
“I'm not going to stop bugging people about elections. I'm not going to stop bugging people about voting,” she said. “Now I'm going to go and start bugging people about running for office.”