Video gaming saves Northern spelling champ

By Cindy Yurth
Tséyi’ Bureau

SHIPROCK, Feb. 14, 2013

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Thank goodness for video games, or the 8th-grade spelling match at the Shiprock Agency Spelling Bee might still be going on.

Not because the two final contestants were spelling so well. Quite the opposite.

For the 12 rounds after the rest of the contestants were eliminated and they went head to head, neither Kai Lameman of Red Mesa Junior High nor Kristaile Bigman of Atsa Biyaazh Community School could spell two consecutive words right to win the bee.

Finally, after tripping over many easier words, Lameman whizzed through the obscure word “ocarina” and followed up with another musical term, “adagio,” to win.

However, Lameman later confessed he didn’t know “ocarina” from its dictionary definition — “a simple wind instrument or toy of the flute class” — but rather from the video game “The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time,” in which the ocarina (according to a gaming website) is “a time-controlling object.”

A similar thing happened in the 7th grade match, with the last two contestants misspelling vigorously for 14 rounds until Cara John of Atsa Biyaazh finally spelled “parapet” and “patina” after Kassey Yazzie of Red Rock Day School failed her assault on “schloss” (a German castle or manor house), getting the tricky German “sch” but inexplicably adding a “u” after the “o.”

Fourth and fifth grade sustained similar teeth-grindingly misspelled standoffs (“Sintacks”? “Crokai”? Really?) until Nelson Nakai of Aneth Elementary finally bested Arnesha Johnson of T’iis Nazbas Community School to become the fifth-grade champion and Alona Johnson of Atsa Biyaazh surpassed schoolmate James King in the fourth-grade bout.

Sixth grade was an almost refreshing massacre, with Angel Gonzales of Red Mesa Elementary booting out all but her closest competitor and classmate, Vanessa Martinez, by the fourth round, and punctuating her win with “asterisk” in the fifth.

Other than John, most of the winners — the winners, mind you — said they hadn’t studied at all.

This revelation prompted judge Kathi Stanford to bristle, “It’s a privilege for them to be here. Somehow they’re not getting that.”

Stanford said it appeared most of the contestants “hadn’t even cracked the Spell It,” Merriam-Webster’s study guide to the Scripps National Spelling Bee that includes frequently misspelled words and word lists by language of origin.

One thing’s for sure: the northern kids will have to step it up if they hope to challenge the likes of Central Agency’s Aarish Raza and Samuel Yeager, who are certainly taking their dictionaries with them to the bathroom by now, in the Navajo Nation Bee scheduled for March 7 in Chinle.

That’s just three weeks, Kai. Put down the video game and pick up a dictionary. Because in the spelling game, the Ocarina of Time can save you but once.

Event will honor, remember late Navajo activist

By Bill Donovan
Special to the Times

GALLUP, Feb. 14, 2013

The 40th anniversary of the death of Navajo activist Larry Casuse is approaching and area Indian leaders are planning to hold an event in Gallup honoring Casuse as well as those who took part in the siege at Wounded Knee.

Mervyn Tilden, the organizer of the event, said that “all people are invited to educate themselves and stand with us” at the McKinley County Court House square from noon to 1 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 23.

He urged people to bring their signs, drums, banners and prayers.

Casuse, who was 19 at the time of his death, died March 1, 1973 in the aftermath of the kidnapping of then Gallup Mayor Emmett Garcia. He and another University of New Mexico student Robert Nakaidinae kidnapped the mayor from his office at city hall and marched him by gunpoint two and a half blocks to a gun and sporting goods store on U.S. Historic Highway 66.

No one was there but they broke in and Casuse and Nakaidinae were making plans to fight it out with police when Garcia, his hands tied behind him, crashed through the glass door at the store and escaped.

Nakaidinae was captured and served a short prison term. Casuse died of a bullet wound to the head. Police claimed it was a self-inflicted shot but some Native American activists claimed that Casuse was actually executed by police as they entered the building.

A photo appeared in the Gallup Independent the next day showing Casuse’s body, which was dragged out by police, lying on the sidewalk with a trial of blood leading to the front door of the sporting goods store.

The photo, which won a number of state AP awards, was objected to by area Indian leaders as being insensitive. Tilden said the only reason for the police to drag Casuse’s body outside was “so police officers could have their picture taken with him as if he was a trophy kill.”

The motive of Casuse and Nakaidinae was to bring attention to Garcia’s part ownership of the Navajo Inn, a notorious package liquor store on Arizona State Highway 264 located two miles east of the state border.

Tilden said there would also be remembrances of the 71-day armed standoff that took many lives during and after the siege at Wounded Knee.

“It is time to revisit history, draw the line against racism and speak against the continued exploitation of our Indigenous nations,” Tilden said. “And declare our stand for the next seven generations to end this reign of terror - at Wounded Knee and in Gallup and all places in between.”

Investigation to purchase Navajo Mine continues for tribe, BHP

By Alastair Lee Bitsoi
Navajo Times

WINDOW ROCK, Feb. 14, 2013

A new five-year collective bargaining agreement ratified by union members of the International Union of Operation Engineers Local 953 has cleared a hurdle for the Navajo Nation as it continues its due diligence investigation of acquiring Navajo Mine.

On Wednesday, 87 percent of the IUOE union membership turned out to vote on the collective bargaining agreement between BHP Billiton New Mexico Coal and the IUOE Local 953. 282 voted in favor of the agreement, while 102 voted against it, according to Norman D. Benally, media contact for BHP Billiton New Mexico Coal.

The collective bargaining agreement that was ratified covers the Surface Mining Operations Hourly Employees at Navajo Mine, which employees approximately 650 employees, Benally said.

“The large majority of Navajo Mine employees are Navajo, and it allows the Navajo employees and their families to enjoy the benefits of being employed by the surface agreement,” Benally added.

Collective bargain agreements are reached during negotiations between employers and a group of employees that regulates working conditions and wages; in this case, BHP New Mexico Coal and the IUOE. The agreement takes effect immediately and is retroactive to Feb. 1, 2013.

Benally said the approval of the agreement by the union members ensures certainty for the Navajo Nation as the tribe moves forward to evaluate the transaction of purchasing Navajo Mine.

In December, the tribe signed a non-binding memorandum of understanding with BHP New Mexico Coal to acquire BHP Navajo Coal Company. The Navajo Coal Company supplies about 8 million tons of coal per year from Navajo Mine to the 2,100 megawatt Four Corner Power Plant near Farmington.

A joint press released issued by BHP Billiton and the International Union of Operation Engineers Local 953 on Wednesday confirmed the collective bargaining agreement vote.

“Approval of this Agreement is a positive step for the viability of NMC’s surface operations, including Navajo Mine, the continued delivery of coal to our customers, as well as the continued employment and safety of our employees and contractors, “said Pat Risner, President of BHP Billiton New Mexico Coal.

Pat Vigil, business manager of IUOE Local 9453, said the new five-year agreement supports the Navajo Mine into the future.

“I am proud of the unity displayed by the membership during the negotiations,” he said. “Both sides worked extremely hard to achieve what we believe was a fair and balanced outcome given the circumstances we are both under.”

Prior to the Feb. 13 vote, union members were presented a tentative agreement by the negotiation teams from BHP and IUOE, but that was voted down on Jan. 31.      Provisions under such agreements allow for an extended negotiation period, which was voted upon Wednesday night as the ratified agreement.

Barry Dixon, president of the IUOE Local 953, said Thursday that union members turned down the previous agreement because of unresolved health and welfare issues and work conditions.

“That was basically the reason why the first offer by the company was rejected,” Dixon said.

Under the five-year agreement, Dixon said those issues have been resolved, though he couldn’t give specifics about the agreement, which still needs a signature from the negotiation teams before being published.

“We believe in regards to the ongoing discussions between BHP Billiton and the Navajo Nation this addresses the outstanding issues they have,” Dixon added. “This is just one of the hurdles that are there that the due diligence investigation is addressing.”

Social Security going to direct deposit

By Alastair Lee Bitsoi
Navajo Times

WINDOW ROCK, February 14, 2013

Navajo elderly who receive Social Security and some other federal benefits have until March 1 before the federal electronic payment law goes into effect.

The electronic payment law is an initiative by the U.S. Treasury to save American taxpayers $1 billion over 10 years.

With less than 30 days before the law goes into effect, beneficiaries need to either switch to direct deposit or the Direct Express Debit MasterCard.

Choosing direct deposit or the Direct Express card makes it easier, safer and more convenient for beneficiaries to receive their payments.

"Switching to an electronic payment is not optional — it's the law," said David Lebryk, commissioner of the Treasury Department's Financial Management Service. "If you or a loved one still receive paper checks for your benefit payments, now is the time to switch."

For those who have yet to make this change, call 1-800-333-1795 or visit

According to the Treasury Department, about 93 percent of Social Security and Supplemental Security Income payments are being made electronically, and 5 million checks continue to be mailed to federal beneficiaries each month.

Although the switch to electronic payment is mandatory, recipients who don't meet the March 1 deadline will see no interruption in their service, said Bradford Benson, public affairs specialist with the Treasury Department's Financial Management Service.

"We will work with them to get electronic payment," Benson said.

Benson also said there are three waivers recipients can apply to opt out of the electronic payments. Those three waivers include a recipient being 90 years old or older and "handling their own affairs," geographically remote or mentally incompetent.

"Theoretically, if you live in a place that is impractical to use a debit card, there are no ATMs around, if that is the case, you will need to call us and apply for a waiver," Benson explained. "That will keep you from getting a lot of non-compliance letters."

As of Wednesday, the U.S. Treasury had received 300 waiver applications.

To apply for one of the waivers, recipients will need to call the same number they would call to set up their electronic payments, 1-800-333-1795.

"You apply to them all the same way as you would with going electronic," Benson added. "Slowly, but surely, everyone will end up with a waiver or some sort of electronic deposit."

Christina Walters, public affairs specialist for the Social Security Administration San Francisco office, which oversees 10 states and U.S. territories, including Arizona, said the agency supports the U.S. Treasury's initiative.

"We do encourage direct deposit, it is safe and secure for the individual especially the elderly," she told the Navajo Times on Tuesday.

She also assured no interruption of Social Security and SSI checks for those individuals who do not meet the March 1 deadline.

"We don't have plans to stop anyone's checks for direct deposit," Walters added. "We're just going to support the initiative and continue to tell our claimants to go with direct deposit."