Celebrating 21 years of service, Yaateeh Keshmish, a non-profit organization known as Navajo Santa, was created to bring food, blankets, warm clothing, toys, and other necessities to Navajos in need on the reservation in southeastern Utah. Entirely volunteer supported, Navajo Santa provides an exchange of culture and support between Navajos and non-Navajos.
Throughout history, Navajos living on the Utah strip, as this portion of the Navajo Reservation is called, have been one of the poorest and most neglected groups in the United States. Fifty percent of the 8,000 Navajos live below the poverty level. Many live in isolated locations without electricity or water.
In the 1940s, Father Leibler, an Episcopal priest, began a program of gathering Christmas presents and gifts of food for the Utah Navajo. Even though this ended in the 1960s, the feeling of community and joy that was engendered through this program continued to live in the memories of the local Navajo people. Kenneth Maryboy, a local Navajo, began reinstating Father Leiblers Christmas program in the 1980s. By 1990, friends of the Navajos in Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona supported Maryboy in the Christmas distribution. This became Navajo Santa or Yaateeh Keshmish (Merry Christmas in Navajo).
Navajo Santa board members in Salt Lake City collect the needed items to take to the reservation in December. Distribution on the reservation is organized and directed by Kenneth Maryboy, the Chair of Yaateeh Keshmish, and board member Dennison Bellson. Dressed in Santa suits, along with their elves and other Navajo supporters, they spread Christmas joy across the Utah Navajo Reservation. Distribution of warm clothes, blankets, food and toys to these needy families is received during the holiday season with sincere appreciation.
In 2004 Yaateeh Keshmish introduced a new program called Navajo Santa Goes to School. This new program identifies a different school each year to provide students with back-to-school items, eye examinations and dental hygiene kits and education.