At the Navajo Nation Division of Community Development, we have a total IT staff of two. There are many challenges the Navajo Nation faces, and many of them are at the community level, and I work to find technical solutions to help solve some of these challenges. For example, we’re facing a potential undercount in this year’s Census due to the COVID-19 pandemic, so I’m helping to provide statistical information and making that information easy to access for members of the community, too.
A few years back, I was attending Google’s Geo for Good Summit, checking out all the new geographic tools Google had developed. That’s where I learned about Plus Codes, and that’s when we started our collaboration.
Around the world, several billion people either don’t have an address, or have one that doesn’t accurately identify the location of their home or business. That’s why Google created Plus Codes, which use latitude and longitude to produce a short digital address that’s easy to share. Google Maps already provides millions of directions each month to people using Plus Codes, and we’ve found them to be extremely useful for rural Navajo communities, where at least 50,000 properties don’t have an address.
The Navajo Nation has been using Plus Codes to establish locations of community resources like watering points, food distribution locations and free public Wi-Fi hotspots. The Bluff Area Mutual Aid, led by the Rural Utah Project, also used Plus Codes to identify where people in need were located and how best to deliver the needed food and supplies. The Bluff Area Mutual Aid has raised enough money to deliver more than 900 food boxes for relief efforts.
I believe that once people see how useful Plus Codes can be in actual use, they will become inspired to use it in other, creative ways to improve their lives. People have started using Plus Codes for service delivery from the chapter to community members, package and postal delivery through partnerships with shipping companies, and in adapting it to establish location information for COVID-relief efforts. And when there's an emergency, people can use Plus Codes to accurately communicate their locations to first responders.
Technology can’t solve all our problems, but I hope that we can invest heavily in upgrading our infrastructure, including roads, electrical power and broadband Internet. This will help attract more businesses and economic activity, keeping our young people from moving away to find work. Our own talented Navajo people are heading these development efforts, and it’s a point of pride to say that we are working for a better future for our community.