Tribe needs to address all cultural insensitivities

April 4, 2013

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A s an enrolled member of this great Navajo Nation, I am perturbed and disillusioned at the fact that it takes a derogatory and culturally insensitive comment made on the nationally syndicated CBS television show "Mike and Molly" for the Navajo Nation to find some controversy and its lingering affects in statements made by non-Natives.

In the March 7, 2013, edition of the Navajo Times, Erny Zah (Communications Director for Navajo Nation Office of the President and Vice President) is quoted as saying that "the Navajo Nation is upset at the remarks and insensitivity shown by the writers and staff at the CBS show."

Zah also was quoted, "An apology would be appropriate, but it can't undo the damage caused by the racist statement."

Yet, in a July 14, 2010, meeting, at which I was in attendance, Dr. Alan S. Downer, who is the Navajo Nation Historic Preservation Department director and Tribal Historic Preservation officer, made an equally, if not stronger, derogatory, highly offensive and cultural insensitive statement regarding Navajo human remains.

In a discussion regarding the Native American Graves Protection Repatriation Act and Navajo human remains collected from Canyon De Chelly, Downer commented to those of us in attendance, "…for all I care they can grind up the remains and use it for fertilizer."

Native Americans, including the Navajo, have endured countless atrocities throughout the history and it is very likely that these Navajo human remains are evident of those atrocities. Downer's callous statement clearly shows he has no respect for our Navajo culture, traditions and history. This statement is one that Native American country and its leaders would find completely disrespectful, unethical and racist in nature.

Letters in response to the "fertilizer" comment made by Downer were distributed to supervisory and management personnel within the tribe's Historic Preservation Department, the Division of Natural Resources, Department of Personnel Management, Office of Navajo Labor Relations, the Human Rights Commission, the 21st and 22nd Navajo Nation Council Committees and Sub-Committees and the Office of the President and Vice President.

Yet, after two-plus years and a published editorial in the Dec. 15, 2011, Navajo Times edition, these letters seem to have fallen on deaf ears, blind eyes, and inter-office politics, as there has been no recourse or action taken in addressing the statement made by Downer.

In any other arenas/areas of Native American tribal governments, federal, state, or private organizations, Downer's comment would certainly not be tolerated or allowed. I find it appalling and inexcusable that the Navajo Nation condones and tolerates these attitudes and behavior in its ranks of government, especially when the Navajo Nation fervently prides itself on culture and tradition.

The Navajo Nation appears to be very selective in what it finds as "upsetting", "insensitivity" and a "racist statement", as demonstrated in addressing these separate incidents. The Navajo Nation needs to address all such issues, as they are all equally derogatory, culturally insensitive, racist in nature and inexcusable.

Curtis Yazzie
Window Rock, Ariz.

AZ Representative: What affects Cameron is my concern

I am writing as a traditional Navajo, mother, veteran, Chapter house voter for Cameron and as a newly elected Arizona State Representative of Legislative District 7 (includes the confluence sacred site).

Being from Cameron, the Gap-Bodaway community members are my close relatives. What affects them is my concern and a development is irreversible. Gap-Bodaway and Cameron had always been considered one chapter until the 2011 redistricting and Council reduction.

Like many in Northern Arizona, I have read recent letters to the editor of the Navajo-Hopi Observer by former Coconino County Supervisor Yellowman and Hopi Tribal Chairman Shingoitewa.

They raise strong points as to why this should not move forward; most disturbing is disrespect of voter's right to free speech. I am thus hoping those that feel disenfranchised to have hope, seek strength, and write letters to our leaders in Western Navajo, Window Rock, the state legislatures, U.S. Congress and even the president.

Also, we can look to our brothers and sisters to the west, the Hualapai Tribe, and how the Skywalk Development has evolved into a complex, challenging and embarrassing endeavor. We should heed how that plays out for them as it will set precedence at the national level, they may lose everything to the developer. Tourism is a great industry for Native America, but in a respectful and inclusive manner that does not place developer's interest over that of the people they seek to benefit themselves from.

I encourage our leaders to work to pursue more stable investments such as purchasing lands and businesses adjacent to the reservation borders so our people are not exploited.

We should be working with border towns, counties, the state and the greater nation to create enviro-tourism, agri-tourism, and working to hold our tribal sovereignty sacred above all. We have so many young people with vision, faith and hope to contribute to this economic expansion.

As I take part in traditional ceremonies and say daily prayers to our holy people I feel our obligation to Mother Earth has been forgotten, our prayers are fading as we forsake another site.

I humbly ask for your commitment to our sacred lands and to support our leaders to make the courageous decisions each and every day.

Jamescita Peshlakai Arizona State Representative
Legislative District 7
Cameron, Ariz.

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