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Translating Medicare and More to Navajo Nation

Mabel Blacksheep-Hale travels 2,000 miles a month counseling tribal members

Woman pictured teaching other women

Josué Rivas

Mabel Blacksheep-Hale, standing center, explains Medicare services.

En español | How do you say “caregiver” in Navajo?

Mabel Blacksheep-Hale knows: A'aha'yani'.

She covers at least 2,000 miles a month in her truck, counseling Navajo Nation elders on Medicare and other health care issues as a volunteer representative of AARP.

She connects with them because she is one of them, a 63-year-old Navajo who speaks the language.

Medicare eligibility is complicated enough in English. When tribal elders ask questions, she knows she's surpassed the biggest barrier between the services AARP provides and the Navajo Nation: translation.

"A lot of Native Americans do not know what Medicare is until you actually sit down and explain to them,” said Blacksheep-Hale. “They're more secure when you're talking in their native tongue.” In addition to the conversations, she's translated 100 pamphlets.

The Navajo Nation spans roughly 27,500 square miles of New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado and Utah, with a population of nearly 175,000. About 25 percent are 50 or older, U.S. Census Bureau data shows.

Blacksheep-Hale, from Window Rock, Ariz., is used to the long road trips, fueled by snacks, the Tom Petty satellite radio station and a desire to help. Every month she talks with tribal members, mostly in New Mexico, about important health and lifestyle issues, such as fall prevention and Medicare eligibility.

Elders have told Blacksheep-Hale the talks are eye-openers, providing information that otherwise would have been practically unattainable. So she keeps driving down long dusty roads, buying a new truck every two years.

"They need us,” she said. “They think AARP is just an insurance company. We're more than that. We have a lot to offer to them."

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