Letters: Use funds for long-term investment

Nation-building challenges face the Navajo Nation and its leadership in the areas of economic development, public safety, land management and education, to name a few. How should the Navajo Nation leadership tackle these challenges? Where should they spend their time and resources?

Nations throughout the world are in situations similar to the Navajo Nation. Leaders of some nations have not fared well in development decisions and others have made significant differences in improving the lives of their citizens. How did those leaders make a difference toward improving the lives of their citizens?

There are lessons to be learned from the decisions that have been made by leaders of prosperous nations such as Sweden, Netherlands, Finland, Switzerland, and others. These nations rank high in a number of prosperity measures, among others: economic quality, business environment, legal system, governance, education, and health.

Many researchers found that these countries became prosperous by making the right investments at the right time. These countries invested in making sure that corruption was low, the government operated by the rule of law, citizens trusted each other, the regulatory environment was efficient, etc.

Using the above lessons, what should the Navajo Nation do first to move toward more prosperity? Where do we invest our precious and scarce resources?

As the next election looms near, I am concerned that some of our leaders are proposing spending plans that will not advance the Navajo Nation towards a more sustainable and prosperous future. Some of our leaders want to spend awarded judgment funds and other money on pork barrel projects that will not promote long-term, sustainable development on the Navajo Nation.

In fact, these leaders want to spend these funds mostly from the hard-fought for Navajo Nation Permanent Trust Fund ($218 million) and the recently awarded judgment funds (Ramah Navajo Settlement, $58 million and Navajo breach-of-trust claim, $554 million) rather than making prudent, long-term, sustainable investment decisions.

These funds total about $1 billion. These funds are precious resources fought for by our former leaders that come once in a lifetime so they should be carefully invested to secure the future of the Navajo Nation as they intended.

Why not invest these newfound funds in the long-term future of the Navajo Nation? Successful nations throughout the world make long-standing, sustainable investments as a way to make sure such funds will work for them into the future Ð for their children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. Such enduring, sustainable investment is the wisest decision to make to ensure that the Navajo Nation becomes more stable and prosperous.

I suggest that these newfound funds be properly invested for the Navajo Nation’s future. To do this, we need to create an environment that is safe for investment to attract Navajo and non-Navajo investors. Why is this critical? Because creating a safe environment for investors precede economic development.

This means, first of all, creating a strong, politically independent judicial system; developing a highly-educated populace; teaching and practicing Ke’; and improving public safety; and enhancing the health of our relatives. This is where our leaders should be spending their time and our valuable, scarce resources.

Long-term investment requires careful forethought and strategic thinking by imagining what the Navajo Nation might look like hundreds of years from now. Long-term investment does not mean spending our scarce resources now on unsustainable projects.

First and foremost, good nation-building investment means creating an environment safe for investors, which will require thoughtful and far-sighted leadership decision-making.

If we want our descendants to live happy and fruitful lives, then we must exercise wise, long-term, sustainable investment planning to prepare a prosperous Navajo Nation for them.

Manley A. Begay Jr.
Flagstaff, Ariz.

Is Department of Diné Ed taking on too much?

With over eight years of local Navajo grant school board experience under my belt and not a convinced fan of the Department of Diné Education’s proposal to establish the Diné Consolidated School System, I will delve into this important education issue of our time as the devil’s advocate.

For starters, this is one humongous undertaking with so many unknowns. The concept is already unpopular and perceived as a threat to the status quo. The common opinions expressed by the Navajo community at large are DoDE is just reinventing the wheel to set up a school system mirroring public education.

Thirty-two Bureau of Indian Education Schools who are based on the Navajo Nation are targeted for incorporation into a DCSS and soon thereafter another 34 grant schools are slated to join making for a grand total of 66 former BIE and Grant Schools with DoDE as the oversight entity. Is DoDE biting off more than it can chew?

A revisit to the Head Start Program debacle comes to mind when audit findings called for a massive corrective action plan, subsequently the program is back to operation status but still in a look-see mode with some schools still shuttered with no qualified personnel to staff them. In spite of assurances from DoDE Òthis is not Head StartÓ the anxiety lingers DCSS might become Act II and deserves consideration as the new elephant in the room.

Compounding matters further is President Trump who recently appointed Elisabeth “Betsy” Devos to head the secretary of education. She is a billionaire with no educational experience, a firm believer in school vouchers, and an anti-public schools system. Combine this with Trump’s remark while addressing Congress Òeducation is the civil rights issue of our timeÓ, exactly what does he mean?

A conundrum indeed because Trump wants to increase the defense budget and pare down with the Department of the Interior’s budget. If in fact this occurs, the reduced budget to the Bureau of Indian Affairs will adversely impact the BIE and grant schools operations. The trend of cutting the BIA budget has become the norm.

Is this just bad timing for DoDE to take center stage? Perhaps it is best for DoDE to ease off the pedal and wait out the Trump administration altogether. In the interim, focus on fine-tuning the proposal and prepare for audience friendly presentations.

The previous method employed was to ramrod the product haphazardly and inconsistently with constant changes and then more changes. Instead of garnering trust and support from the relevant schools personnel, communities, and the locally elected school boards who were all unintentionally funneled into a sense of mistrust and no confidence.

DoDE was ill prepared and the timeframe for project implementation was too constrained to allow for prior civil dialogue between affected parties. The grant received by DoDE to set up a one-stop program between the BIE and DoDE forced an unrehearsed proposal and came across as Òhere’s the product, take it as is.Ó A lesson learned Ñ this will not be a slam dunk.

The economy is another unfriendly factor to Navajo education as fossil fuel power plants are starting to shut down operations and along with it goes the coal mining jobs. An exodus to seek employment elsewhere will ensue taking along their families and students, but not on Navajo Ñ there are next to no jobs here.

Another threat is the public schools, which are preferred by K-12 Navajo students over the BIE and grant schools. This has caused a drastic downsizing of facilities with many operating well below full carrying capacities. Student enrollment must be addressed otherwise DoDE is taking over an educational program already dwindling in student enrollment and its workforce.

Here’s a stark wake-up call, a presenter at an education conference really drove the point home about data collected on Indian education which revealed our Native students’ graduation rate was on the decline and the dropout rate was on the rise. How much longer will the federal government continue to throw money at a failing program? Is this why DoDE and BIE are collaborating to partnership and have DoDE become the primary owner of school operational responsibilities?

The primary goal of DoDE is to establish and to provide for a safe and quality educational experience for K-12 students. To provide this without adequate federal dollars will seriously hamper the intended outcome.

Are quality teachers willing to teach on Navajo? What about the infrastructures? Will maintenance be up to par? What about the roads and bus routes? Will Navajo end up subsidizing the DCSS? The question list goes on and on.

The bottom line is if money is tight there goes the plan of operation. Even now the BIE facilities maintenance takes time. A school must submit a work request and then wait for the requested maintenance service(s) Ð an apparent Achilles’ heel.

DoDE lacks a track record to oversee schools and their current office operations are done at the 11th hour. Performance gains respect.

On the plus side, families must encourage their students to utilize the BIE schools. If you don’t use it, you lose it. The opportune time for DoDE to advertise and campaign to keep Navajo students on Navajo is now. Also needed now is more outreach to the chapters and communities and, thereby gain support for the mission. I recently attended an agency council meeting and absent was DoDE. How does one sell a product if they are a no show? To be taken seriously, you have to be visible.

The mission’s momentum seems to be at idle mode. A suggestion would be to take the proposal in bite-sized pieces, e.g., take a school or a small group of schools as a pilot project and let it serve as a gauge to determine if the strategic concept is workable, if not, identify the problems, work out the kinks, and proceed to the next number of schools with the realization that with each bite there will be expected changes, surprises, and additional problems will manifest themselves.

These growing pains approach allows for the project to grow, evolve, and gain acceptance. There is no better route than to demonstrate a tangible plan with the desired results.

DoDE wants to introduce DCSS as a Cadillac but one missed component from the get-go was a failure to consult with the on-the-ground professional personnel who are in the trenches. They, through hands-on experiences, possess tons of information about what works and what doesn’t. It’s not too late to garner their input.

In retrospect, the project should have been engineered from the ground up. Figuratively speaking the initial presentation to the school administrators and school boards was introduced with the paint still wet.

What attracts quality teachers to Navajo? Wages, availability of state-of-the-art technology, adequate accommodations, job security, love for the profession, and unique challenges are some major considerations.

Facts are there is a shortage of teachers in the state of Arizona and some teachers are looking to transfer off Navajo, however, the plus side for Navajo is public education salaries in Arizona is among the lowest in the country while BIE teacher salaries are second to none.

Some outside-the-box thinking is needed to retain our existing educators and administrators to continue to build on the idea of a safe and quality education in spite of budget cuts. Navajo has navigated through tough times before.

The bureaucrats have the final say in how this plays out, or has the Navajo Nation authorized DoDE to relieve the federal government of its obligation to directly educate Navajo children (Native Americans) per Treaty of 1868? All pertinent players need to be convinced this is not a shot in the dark proposal.

Denny Tsosie
LeChee, Ariz.

Title 5 constrains, limits businesses

I’m writing to voice my opinion on the issue of Title 5, Navajo Nation Tour Guide Services Act. This act was implemented as law a few years ago and needs revision to make it more business friendly as the Navajo Parks and Recreation Department is enforcing the policies and creating unreasonable and unacceptable rules and regulations, such as time constraints and limits on starting a business.

Limits such as only allowing and accepting applications in January to start a business. Navajo people are not allowed to start a business for the rest of the year and individuals are not even allowed to find employment with established tour companies as well.

In order to find employment all eligible applicants and even returning guides are required every year to purchase a five-year background check from the Navajo Police Department by traveling to Window Rock and back, and some guides are still turned down for employment after all they have to go through.

The Title 5 fees every year are enforced arbitrarily and are used to actually close Navajo businesses. Navajo people should be allowed to start a business any time of the season, as soon as they can acquire business insurance, permit fees, and all documentation related to the establishment of a new business and completed application process.

Hindering Navajo business is the mission of the current department overseeing the Canyon De Chelly Heritage Center in Chinle. Everybody is forced to buy a permit that includes hiking and 4×4 tours, even if you only want to open a hiking company, or even just a 4×4 tour company.

The fees are as follows:

  • 4×4 tour annual permit fee = $1,025.
  • Hiking only permit fees = $525.
  • Horseback permit fees = $1,025.

Individual guide and/or scout permit fees is $525 so everybody is forced to pay $1,575 for their permit, even if they only want to hike.

Tour companies also pay Navajo Nation taxes of an average of $3,000 to $5,000 annually, depending on the size and scope of the business.

All tour companies are required to show proof of commercial business insurance that covers and protects the Navajo Nation, as well as the National Park Service, and yet the tribal enterprise, known as Thunderbird lodge, is allowed to spread the perception that the private Navajo tour companies don’t have the necessary insurance.

Even the appeal process for complaints is arbitrary and unfair. When you have a complaint about the park staff, you have to file it with them and when they deny your complaint you have to file an appeal with them or the party that you are filing the complaint on. This is unfair and highly questionable as a conflict of interests arises.

In this age of rampant poverty and hopelessness, the Navajo Nation Council delegates need to consider a business-friendly change to Navajo Nation Title 5 Tour Guide Services Act.

Polices should be renegotiated with the Canyon De Chelly Business Owners Association and the Navajo private tour companies from Monument Valley who are affected by these unreasonable policies and rules.

Please support your local Navajo owned businesses and businessmen and businesswomen of our community, and we can all turn things around for ourselves.

As my grandma would have said in Navajo, ÒAah’ whi’ ah’ gii’ taa’ goo’ aay’ yah.’Ó

Adam Teller
Canyon De Chelly, Ariz.

Story of the treaty needs to be told

I would like to say thank you to everyone involved in bringing back the original Treaty of 1868 to the Navajo Nation. The Navajo people are the true recipients of this very important document. It reminds us of the promises made by our forefathers to never pick up arms against the people of the United States and, in return, the U.S. government promises us to look after our needs. However, the story of how the treaty came about must be told.

During the presidency of Abraham Lincoln (1861-65), the U.S. cavalry was sent to the Southwest to round up the Navajo Indians with brute force. Under the command of Col. Kit Carson, the cavalry troops were on a search and destroy mission.

They were to destroy all food sources and supplies of the Indians. They were to capture and hold as prisoners of war any Indians they came across on Navajo land. They were to shoot any Indian that tried to escape or evade capture.

Thus, trapped groups of Indians were massacred, hogans and cornfields were burnt down, melons and squash patches were kicked apart, and livestock were shot dead where they stood Ñ this was the first attempt at livestock reduction on the reservation.

And if you were captured and you refused to sign the sign-in sheet with your ÒXÓ mark, you were shot in the back immediately.

At the point of a bayonet, the Navajos, the Diné people, were forced to march across the now present day Navajo Reservation down to Fort Sumner, N.M., about a distance of 500 miles, which the Navajos called the ÒLong Walk.Ó

Natives named the army prison camp Hééwliidééh in their own language. Here the Navajo Tribe and other Indians were detained because it has its own railway line. The federal government had planned to put the Indians in railroad boxcars and send them off to the state of Oklahoma for re-settlement Ñ this was the first attempt at Navajo Indian relocation by the federal government.

All of this was being done to move the American Indians out of the way of the white settlers, for Manifest Destiny was in full swing across the country propelled by the California gold rush.

However, fate intervened. President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth. This act placed the deportation of the Navajo orders on hold until the next U.S. president can make a decision on what he wants to do about the prison camp in New Mexico.

The Civil War in the United States was over and the country was in the era of reconstruction.

Meanwhile, the Navajos were stuck in the concentration camp where the living conditions were horrific. There were no firewood for the stoves and people had to crowd together in their housing units to keep warm. The spread of contagious diseases were rampant and a lot of people were dying from unsanitary living conditions. This is definitely genocide.

The cost of keeping the Navajo Indians as prisoners of war was getting too costly to the U.S. taxpayers. And so, the federal government decided to release the Navajos back to their homeland.

The U.S. government drafted a peace treaty between our two nations. The first and foremost condition of the treaty stated was to cease all hostilities between the people of the United States and the people of the Navajo Nation. Then there was an understanding about the trust and responsibilities of the federal government to all the Indian tribes of America, and that is to look after the welfare of all the Indian nations. This included the building of schoolhouses and hospitals across the Indian reservation so that free education and health care can be provided by the United States government.

In 1868, the treaty was agreed upon and signed by our first tribal leaders. After four long years in captivity, the Navajo people were finally released and allowed to go back to their homeland. They were happy to be free again.

Yes, it took a lot of pain, suffering, and dying to obtain this piece of paper that we call the Treaty of 1868. Therefore, let us honor and uphold the promises our forefathers have made then.

Elmer Muzzie
Pinon, Ariz.

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