Communication and participation

By Johnny Naize
Navajo Nation Council

April 5, 2012

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I n last month's contribution, I gave a brief overview on redistricting, gaming, and the legislative district assistants.

I also alluded to our rapidly shifting government and I encouraged open lines of communication for the sake of better governance for our people.

The most recent shifts in our government can mostly be attributed to the reduction of the Navajo Nation Council's membership from 88 to 24, which resulted from Diné people's will expressed through a referendum vote.

As a direct result of the reduction in Council membership, it was necessary for certain sections of Title II to be amended to reflect the numerical and organizational changes.

For example, the Intergovernmental Relations Committee was replaced by the Naa'bik'iyati' Committee and the standing committees were reduced from 12 to five.

The changes required much effort and dialogue on the part of the Council in order to reorganize Navajo government so that it functioned at its best.

The efforts of the 22nd Navajo Nation Council resulted in the production and passage of the Title II Amendments of 2011, which was a monumental accomplishment that I applaud the Council for achieving.

But that was not the end of the need for evaluating and modifying Diné government. More advancement is needed so that it functions to serve the community's needs and to help the Council work more efficiently.

On March 29, 2012, Council Delegate Leonard Tsosie introduced legislation 0126-12. If approved by the Council, it will amend certain sections of Title II. The proposed amendments were vetted by the Naa'bik'iyati' Government Reform Taskforce to ensure that it was an involved process.

To me this is an indication that the Council will continue to work to ensure that Navajo government is highly efficient and that the Council is committed to addressing the changes put forth by the people.

An additional change that resulted from the reorganization is the five-day hold period for bills, which gives elected officials, division directors, and the public an opportunity to comment on legislation.

Currently, legislations are available on the Council's website ( for the duration of the five-day period.

The five-day period is an important addition to the Navajo government legislative process because it is a direct avenue for the public to voice their concerns on legislation.

Typically, all comments are analyzed and included in a report written by the director of the Office of Legislative Services. The report is then included with legislation reviewed by oversight committees and delegates.

I am particularly proud of this function within our government for a number of reasons. The first is that Diné people have a direct route in participating and impacting governmental decisions made by their representatives.

A second reason is that it indicates that our nation, both the government and the public participants, are willing to venture into new territory in order to bring about government stability that is desired by all citizens.

Long gone are the days when communities and individual citizens lacked an easily accessible route for voicing their concerns and opinions in the legislative process.

I encourage all the young people of our nation to regularly review legislation on the Council's website. I further encourage the youth to inform their parents and elders about proposed legislation, to collect their comments, and submit them on our website on their behalf.

If web access is a problem for you, then I encourage you to seek out your delegate's legislative district assistant and they can capture your comment and submit them during the five-day hold period.

We have reached a developmental high point in our government but for us to achieve greatness as a nation it will require the participation of all our people.

On this note, I ask all Diné citizens to give the 22nd Navajo Nation Council an opportunity to show you that they can and will represent you to the best of their ability.

Let us move on from previous opinions about the Council and realize positive and new opportunities for our legislative body.

Already this Council has proven that they embrace the notions of accountability and transparency through actions taken on various issues (e.g., p-card abuse, chapter house sanctions, bill hold period, and the water rights settlement).

I invite you to attend committee meetings, which take place weekly and schedules are available on the Council's website, and listen to the conversations between delegates on both controversial and non-controversial topics.

If and when you attend a committee or Council meeting, you will immediately see the diversity in experience and concerns expressed by each individual who serve on those bodies.

Fortunately, and contrary to popular opinion, the Council is not one person nor is it led by one opinion.

This Council, based on what I have seen and heard, is thoughtful and critical in their approach to issues as they relate to their communities and to the state of our nation.

I assure you that when you express your concerns to your Council delegate, whether through chapter meetings or through personal contact, they listen to you and often those concerns are shared and recorded into the Council's official record.

Just a couple of weeks ago, grassroots activists protesting the water rights settlement brought their concerns to the Naa'bik'iyati Committee meeting and the committee unanimously voted to hear from the community groups.

The following week, veterans marched to the Council chambers to voice their concerns on housing, hiring practices, and veterans' assistance. Although Council delegates were not informed of the march beforehand, Council delegates Leonard Tsosie and Jonathan Hale greeted the veterans and listened to their concerns.

In conclusion, I assure you that we are here to introduce changes that are favorable to Navajo people. We want our communities and people to participate in their government.

I believe that we are capable of addressing the most pressing needs of our people. I have every bit of confidence in our people's intellectual and spiritual abilities.

Supreme Court complex needed in nation's plans

By Herb Yazzie
Chief Justice
Navajo Nation Supreme Court

Though the Navajo Nation's judicial system has continuously been praised as a leader in tribal court adjudication, there is no physical manifestation of the highest court of our system in the form of a Supreme Court building.

There has never been a permanent facility for the Supreme Court and the administrative offices of the judicial branch.

We were located on the east side of Veterans Memorial Park in mobile trailers for many years prior to relocating to our current locations. Since January 2008, the chief justice's office and the administrative office of the courts have been located at the Damon building at the Highway 264 and Indian Route 12 intersection.

The Supreme Court office (court administrator, court clerk and law clerk) is located in the Butler building near the Records Management Office.

There is no court room for the Supreme Court justices to hold hearings.

We have provided services to the Navajo people in temporary facilities for over 26 years. Therefore, we understand first hand the desperate need for the Navajo Nation to plan to address this issue of government facilities comprehensively.

I understand that this is a need that legislators are currently discussing.

Navajo Nation government-wide discussions have been underway to fund capital improvement projects for governmental structures and for revenue generating projects through two proposals -through bond financing initiatives and through use of the Permanent Trust Fund - by Navajo Nation Council standing committees.

As these discussions progress, we encourage our Navajo Nation leadership to place the building of a Supreme Court facility as the centerpiece of the capital building efforts.

In the present discussions, there is the opportunity for our leaders to prioritize the Supreme Court complex, which would serve the entire Navajo Nation.

While focus is currently on revenue generating projects, businesses and companies need to know that there is a stable justice system that would fairly adjudicate any conflicts or disputes that may arise.

Having a Supreme Court building that embodies the ideas of justice and conflict resolution is an asset to efforts to generate revenue by the Navajo Nation.

The judicial branch is now completing its planning for a new facility. We hired VCBO Architecture using an appropriation by the Council and designs have been drawn up for a complex.

With technical assistance from the Design & Engineering Services department, necessary surveys and legal descriptions have been secured and land has been withdrawn.

Our project is included in the listing of governmental facilities construction-ready projects. We will be ready for construction to begin this spring. Now is the time to fund construction.

The project we are proposing will utilize nine acres east of Route 0100 and west of Circle Hill Drive in Window Rock. The proposed complex will have five facilities housing the Supreme Court, the Peacemaking Program, administrative office, Probation and Parole Services, and an amphitheater.

The facilities will accommodate about 40 staff members.

The judicial branch will continue to seek funding opportunities for the construction of the Supreme Court complex. We will be seeking approximately $14.5 million for construction and are asking for the support and assistance of the Council's standing committees to obtain funding.

We are currently working with Council Delegate Russell Begaye of Shiprock to find funds. Members of the Budget and Finance Committee have also been of assistance in this process.

Furthermore, we are seeking separate funding for an access road and three parking lots for the proposed facility. The access road and parking lots to serve the public and our employees are estimated to cost approximately $1.4 million.

We have obtained support from each of the five agency road councils to include our project in the Tribal Transportation Improvement Program listing so that we may secure funds from the Indian Reservation Roads fund.

I understand the Council's Resources and Development Committee must approve the T-TIP listing and we are anticipating presenting to the committee members before the listing goes to them for approval.

We are also seeking technical assistance for this project from the Navajo Division of Transportation and the BIA Navajo Region Roads Department.

The judicial branch is taking the necessary steps to begin construction of a Supreme Court complex that will serve the Navajo people.

The Navajo Nation Code directs that the Supreme Court of the Navajo Nation shall be located in Window Rock. The Supreme Court hears cases on appeal and we provide education to the public as often as we can on Diné bi beenahaz'áani.

In fiscal year 2011, our case load was 199.

The other programs that will be a part of the proposed Supreme Court complex also provide services. The administrative office provides support to 218 staff of the judicial branch and the 10 judicial districts.

In fiscal year 2011, the Peacemaking Program had a caseload of 1,174 cases and Probation and Parole Services had a caseload of 10,862 from all judicial districts.

We ask the public to support our efforts to secure a permanent facility as we move forward to implement this project.

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