Statements by Zah 'dangerously generalized,' inaccurate headline used to trick Diné people

October 4, 2012

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M oving toward a government that is transparent, accountable, and responsible is an ongoing and involved process, but it is necessary so Diné citizens can resume their place within a participatory government.

Often we hear the terms "transparency", "accountability", and "responsibility" applied only to government but I am of the opinion that it is within the purview of all interested parties to act on the same principles; that is if one is truly oriented toward a balanced government or has the interest of Diné people in mind.

Unfortunately, there are two incidents that occurred recently that have prompted me to express my thoughts on the responsibility of individuals and entities in positions of influence; in this case, it is the irresponsibility of former Navajo Nation President Peterson Zah and the news team at the Gallup Independent.

But, I would like to make it clear that I am not arguing against one's right to voice their thoughts on matters that affect Diné people.

There is a distinct difference between responsible dialogue and what I am going to point out now.

The first incident is Peterson Zah's statements that appeared in the Navajo Times on Sept. 08 under the article title, "Zah: Trust fund cannot be used to fund 'wish list.'"

In the article, Mr. Zah made a number of comments that are dangerously generalized and are based in emotion and inaccuracy.

Mr. Zah was quoted as asking whether there was a hidden agenda behind the Nation Building Summit that was hosted by the Resources and Development Committee at Diné College in Tsaile from Aug. 22 to 24.

The only agenda for this summit was to begin a process that would capture how Diné citizens felt about the possible use of the trust fund to directly benefit our nation.

There is nothing hidden about the very real economic disparities in our nation. And it is the responsibility of the leadership to address these real needs, this means exploring all avenues available to the people.

Mr. Zah also inaccurately stated that the tribal leaders "want to spend the people's money without much planning." It was very clear that the purpose of the summit was to start a conversation. Somehow, for Mr. Zah, the beginning became the end. The summit was the first step toward a larger planning effort. Or, would Mr. Zah have preferred that a plan be constructed without first consulting the people on the matter?

In case Mr. Zah has not been paying attention, this council has been very diligent in consulting and hearing Diné citizens. I only need to point to the most recent example of the water rights settlement.

It is this council that conducted hearings so that the people's concerns could be captured and documented in the legislative record. It is this council that listened to the people and made a decision that was aligned with the desires of the people.

Mr. Zah stated further, "I don't want the Permanent Trust Fund to turn into another form of discretionary funds where the money was used at will without much documentation and planning."

Let me remind him there are laws in place defining very clearly how the trust fund can be accessed. A big part of that is putting a question before the people in the form of a referendum. This means the people have and always will have the final decision.

On matters of the trust fund, there is no room for 'I' statements. Although Mr. Zah has self appointed himself as the gatekeeper of the trust fund, the fact is that power rests in the wisdom of Diné people.

Finally, Mr. Zah, again, was paraphrased as saying "there were times the Council members were not paid for attending meetings but they didn't complain."

These are very strong words considering that Mr. Zah would not have anything to do with this summit unless he was paid a per diem and an honorarium.

I also found it very unflattering of Mr. Zah to bring about the issue of discretionary funds, which are still pending while thorough and non-politically motivated investigations are conducted. I will not stand for slanderous commentary against council delegates that are unwarranted.

And I ask Mr. Zah who he thinks he is to question the democratically elected officials that are the choice of the people. No one is or ever will be in a position in which they can criticize or assault the people's decisions and choices.

On matters of the Apple iPads, I am disappointed that the Gallup Independent chose to run the headline, "Gold jewelry to iPads – Navajo Council tries high-tech cost saving idea."

It is unfortunate because the paper could have printed the article without the misleading title that, most likely, left a bad taste in the mouths of Diné citizens.

The title implies that the iPads were gifts to the council delegates. In actuality they were assigned to the delegates for the duration of their term as a tool to assist them in their work. Each iPad is labeled with a Navajo Nation property tag.

These are not gifts meant to sway the decisions of council delegates. The only purposes of the iPads are to improve communication, delivery of documents, and reduce cost while increasing efficiency.

For whatever self-serving reasons, the Gallup Independent felt that abandoning their ethical responsibility to report accurately was not a serious offense. In the process, they breeched their trust with the Diné people.

I accept that news entities will report stories that are both negative and positive. I have no qualms with that. My problem is when a news entity like the Gallup Independent outrightly and unjustly manufactures headlines to generate more business.

From my view, the Gallup Independent purposefully produced an inaccurate headline with the intention of tricking Diné people. It offends me because as a precursor to such an action is the false notion that we are not intelligent enough to see through such gross irresponsibility.

The people deserve just, ethical, and responsible behavior from its current leaders, former leaders, and news entities.

Speaker Johnny Naize
Navajo Nation Council

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