Sovereignty is being 'totally independent'

April 18, 2013

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R ecently there has been a lot of news about the nation facing sequestration. Many people across the country are screaming "unfair treatment!"

Every state, county, city, town, school and Indian nations are desperate as to how they will run their businesses, schools, and government.

I suppose Native American communities are on the top of the list claiming ill treatment by the U.S. government. Navajo Nation leaders when faced with tough issues always claim they are sovereign. To me being sovereign means being totally independent, not dependent on anybody or any resources in administering government resources to their people. So, why is this situation so hard on us?

One fact is that Native American communities are at the mercy of the U.S. and local governments. Because most of the tribal budget is federally funded, maybe it's high time to tighten our belts and maximize the use of these funds. Our leaders need to provide well-established goals for the people. Otherwise we will never have a stable future. The Lord says, "When there's no vision, the people perish."

Another example I've read about is that some parents are upset about reducing or eliminating funds for classes where the Navajo language and culture are being taught. When I read this I thought to myself, "What is going on with Navajo parents?"

Teachers are hired to teach our children the basic subjects for accreditation and not Navajo classes. What about you, parents and grandparents? I said Yádilá óolyé!

Teaching the Navajo language and culture is the parents' and grandparents' responsibility. Intergenerational teachings among native people bring families back together, creating stronger families. We cannot expect someone else to teach this most precious information to our children and grandchildren. This is where Navajo children learn about themselves, who they are, where they came from. It's no wonder that Navajo families are so dysfunctional.

Again, by teaching your own children these valuable resources it brings the family back together. This is why the younger generation is suffering. Grandparents are abandoned and living alone at a sheep camp or nursing home rather than being an integral part of the family while we allow, insist even, that outsiders teach our children this valuable information. So when are we going to learn our responsibilities?

Right now while we are going through difficult times financially, and losing federal funds, is also the perfect time for us to learn. If we do not, we will be forever looking to someone, or some government to depend on. My prayer is: Lord wake us up, humble us, cause us to repent, and start praying consistently.

No government organization, political party, education, or politician, or even religious organization will or can save us from despair. Only a personal relationship with the Lord, Jesus Christ can do that. The word of God says, "Come to me those who labor and are heavy laden, I will give you rest."

Pastor Milt Shirleson
Window Rock, Ariz.

Don't rush into mine purchase

Basic principles of Navajo democracy (t'áá altsxoni bahaz'ah) are increasingly violated as the tribe considers buying the Navajo Mine, a 50-year-old coal mine in the eastern portion of the reservation, or in extending the lease of the Navajo Generating Station near Page, Ariz.

The tribe has engaged in activities behind closed doors at a rushed, almost frantic pace, as it has investigated whether or not to buy the mine - from paying non-Navajo lawyers $3 million to introducing and debating legislation related to the purchase of the mine. The tribe and many of its leaders have made no effort to gauge public opinion about whether or not buying the mine is in "the nation's best interest" aside from the brief time allowed for online commentary.

Additionally, the Navajo Nation's "negotiating" team, who are meeting with the Salt River Project about extending the Navajo Generating Station lease another 25 years, has done everything secretly - even excluding elected Council delegates from the meetings. Unaccountable lawyers from the Department of Justice, ill-equipped and untrained in predicting the future of regional energy markets and in developing sound economic policy, are the "negotiating team." This "negotiating team" speaks and acts far beyond their narrow field of training.

We should not rush to secure coal's place in the tribe's future. It is a long-term commitment and we have not even begun to understand its impacts based on our 50 years of experience with it. The promise of coal was to stimulate greater economic development: creating new industries and funding new businesses that were to raise Navajo standard of living. Coal is no longer a means to development but the object of development itself. It's the only thing we talk about when we want to increase tribal revenues and bring jobs to the reservation.

The lawyers at DOJ, who have been trained to limit their imagination and creativity to stifling legalisms, are blind to these things. We know coal has utterly and woefully failed in its promise to build the Navajo economy: There are no new industries and no new jobs. We need tribal leadership with a new vision that understands that coal has failed to bring the Navajo Nation into the 21st century. We need a tribal leadership that will act to move the Navajo Nation into the future. Thinking this 19th century source of energy will catapult us into the future is plain wrong - an old way of thinking - all coal will do is leave future generations (our children) with nothing when the coal mines inevitably shut down.

It is time for a new strategy. If the tribe approves of buying the mine and extending the NGS lease, we need to have policies and plans to wean us off our dependency on coal and our hope in it to fund and create badly needed jobs. We need to think beyond just asking for more money. We need a new strategy.

We need to use our position within the coal commodity chain to leverage for improved relations with the state of Arizona. We need to think about the future of our water - our livelihood. Rushing to buy Navajo Mine or extending the NGS lease ignores the adverse affects of continuing the use of coal. We need to open this debate to the entire reservation. We must not allow unaccountable bureaucrats, untrained lawyers and leaders with outdated visions to commit us to another 25 years of bad lease agreements. We need more democracy, more transparency, and more input - not closed doors and secretive meetings.

Moroni Benally
Seattle, Wash.
(Hometown: Tolikan, Ariz.)

There's plenty of home-grown expertise

In response to "Shelly: Navajo lands can 'bloom' like Israeli deserts," published in the Navajo Times on April 11, 2013.

Agriculture on the Navajo Nation is something that should be at the forefront of the Navajo Nation leadership's agenda. Today on the Navajo Nation we have an epidemic of diabetes, obesity, heart disease, and other nutritionally related illnesses. Meanwhile the majority of food consumed by Navajo people is purchased in off-reservation border towns, and the food money that's spent on the Navajo Nation goes to non-Navajo owned businesses.

Over the past 150 years, through processes of colonization, our food system and relationship with food has undergone dramatic changes that have contributed to the health, economic, environmental, and social issues we currently face on the Navajo Nation. Certainly, Navajo Nation leadership needs to engage in conversations on how we can rebuild a localized food system on the Navajo Nation. That being said, I was dismayed to read of President Ben Shelly's promotion of agricultural technology from Israel.

Over the past year, I have worked on the Diné Food Sovereignty Initiative, run by the Diné Policy Institute and Land Grant Office of Diné College, to address the lack of access to healthy food on the Navajo Nation. Through this work I have encountered many, many Diné individuals, communities, and organizations that are actively working to revitalize agriculture on the Navajo Nation. What distinguishes the work of these people from the Israeli AMA Agricultural Industries Ltd. is that the ideologies, practices, and technologies of these agriculturalists are rooted in our own unique agricultural heritage, experiences, and philosophies as Diné people.

From my work, I also know that attempts by many of these Diné agricultural experts to gain the attention of the current administration have been largely ignored. Rather than traveling to distant lands, and importing technologies that may not suit our agricultural needs, President Shelly and his administration should first look toward and support the expertise of our own people.

Our ancestors practiced agriculture that was not only specially adapted for our arid region and climate, but that also served as the foundation of our culture and identity as Diné. Sadly, just like our language and other aspects of our culture, this agricultural knowledge has been severely eroded as we have become increasingly dependent on outside systems to feed and provide for us. Therefore, it's critical for the leaders of the Navajo Nation to recognize efforts of the people fighting to keep this knowledge alive and the importance of incorporating their work in rebuilding a sovereign food system for the Navajo Nation.

There are many opportunities for the Shelly administration and Navajo Nation leadership to learn about current Diné agricultural efforts grounded in Diné teaching.

On April 22nd and 23rd, for example, the Diné Food Sovereignty Initiative is sponsoring a free Spring Planting Conference at Diné College in Tsaile, Ariz., that will offer educational presentations and hands-on demonstrations on traditional planting techniques, permaculture, water-harvesting, and Hopi dry-land farming. Everyone, including Navajo Nation leaders, is welcome to attend.

While we can always learn about new agricultural techniques, we must make every effort to immerse our agricultural development in traditional knowledge that sustained and fed us in Diné Bikéyah since we emerged into this place.

Dana Eldridge
Diné Policy Institute
Diné College
Tsaile, Ariz.

Learn lesson from Desert Rock

We did not learn our lesson on Desert Rock. We spent several millions of dollars on this project. Diné Power Authority failed big time with the Navajo people's money. They failed because they did not ask the grassroots people on this project.

The possible purchase of Navajo Mine is the same way. Why?

Create another company that is going to fail like Diné Power Authority. They are just going to ask for millions of dollars at every council session.

The grassroots people in this case are the current employees of the mine, the Northern Agency chapter houses, the union, the power plants, the environmentalists, and the Navajo Nation voters.

It is proven, government can't run a business and Navajo Nation has a history of this. Run a huge mine, Navajo Housing Authority is not the answer. Let's worry about the huge federal budget cut to the Navajo Nation. We need to take care of the services to the people of Navajo Nation.

Sammy Ahkeah
Shiprock, N.M.

Veterans concerns, a concern for all

America has 22 million veterans extending as far back as World War II, of this number nearly 1 in 354 are homeless. On any given night there are roughly 62,519 veterans that are calling the streets of America their home. This number is part of the 633,782 that find themselves in the same situation.

Homelessness does not happen overnight, it is a dilemma that is often the result of underlying issues such as but not limited to PTSD. Military service men and women that have suffered psychological trauma and are attempting to reenter civilian population are riddled with social problems intensified by the fact that these individual's high rates of PTSD, traumatic brain injury, and depression.

In 2009, President Obama and the Secretary of Veterans Affairs Erik Shinseki, outlined a bold initiative to end veteran homelessness by the year 2015. This initiative titled The Six Pillars of Ending Veteran Homelessness encompasses programs that enact change in all aspects of an individual's life from education, housing, and job training to mental health, prevention, and treatment. This initiative has proved beneficial in reducing the number of homeless veterans.

In 2008 the count was 131,000, currently it is at 62,519, by 2014 the count is estimated to be fewer than 32,000, and by 2015 down to the absolute zero.

In supplementing the above programs, legislation needs to be implemented in the effort of improving outreach to veterans from county offices in each state. This piece of legislation is H.R. 153 Veterans Outreach Improvement Act of 2013, introduced by Representative Mike McIntyre of North Carolina's 7th District.

The purpose of this Act is to improve outreach programs within certain geographical locations that are supported by certain agencies. The piece of legislation is to approve grant funding to certain states and agencies that will assist in the outreach to veterans. Once a state or veteran agency is approved for the grant they will start to outreach to the veteran and family members. The program will provide assistance in helping a veteran apply for benefits and also advise family members of the benefits. The grant money can also be used toward education and provide on the job training to providers and employees who are assisting in the outreach efforts.

As long as we have conflict we shall have veterans. Though many veterans may be unaware, there is help in securing the benefits our veterans deserve. Expansion in outreach is greatly needed, especially for cities and towns that make up the Navajo Nation.

I passed this piece of legislation to each member of New Mexico Congress and received a response from Senator Martin Heinrich. Senator Heinrich stated that there is no legislation similar to the Veterans Outreach Improvement Act and that if this piece of legislation were to come before the full Senate for consideration, he would keep my views in mind.

Issues involving our veterans are of great concern to our president, Senator Martin Heinrich, and it should be of concern to us all.

Thomas L. Malone
Los Angeles, Calif.
(Hometown: Gallup, N.M.)

N.M. Indian Livestock Days

It's that time again, New Mexico Indian Livestock Days, May 14-16.

Normally this event has a standing invitation to all who are interested in our livestock industry in New Mexico.

The sessions have good vital information that our governing body should hear. It is imperative they see this through so they can get the perspective from ranchers outside of the Navajo Reservation. We are not just blowing hot air, we are learning from these conferences that are set up to help us.

They are experiencing the same problems and have shared how they resolved situations so that families can continue living what they love doing and that is, ranching. I've attended for several years now and have come away learning more and more about our livestock. The speakers are educated in ranch, livestock management, agriculture legal advisor and business and have good information for all ranchers. Yes, some of the information is repetitive but a lot of it is new, innovative, and informative.

Here are a few points that we, the Navajo Nation, need to know:

First, the grazing fee for public (state/federal) land is $1.35 per Animal Unit Month on the Navajo Nation we have to make a bid to keep our lease, and it is nowhere close to $1.35, just add several more dollar bills to this amount. In actuality, according to the agriculture industry they are going against the guidelines.

Second, for some, our new lease agreement increases by or more than 100 percent. When the Navajo Nation was complaining about the pawn business on the reservation, the pawnbrokers were making a whopping 24 percent profit. The Navajo Nation, DNA, BIA, and FTC stated "That profit margin is not the Navajo way", so 100-plus percent profit is whose way? I'm sorry, am I missing the boat here?

So something is amiss here. What is our Navajo Nation doing?

From what I have read in the newspapers, and have seen in and around our nation, we don't think before we dive into a pond of water.

Justin D. Yazzie Jr.
Farmington, N.M.

Ranking the Times letters

Richard Anderson's letter titled "Has Diné Blessing Way faded?" from last week rates No. 1. The reader could immediately understand that Mr. Anderson is a medicine man with a message about the Beauty Way ceremony. I admit I am partial because my father was also a practitioner of the Beauty Way ceremony.

The letter brought back many fond memories and though he has passed, I can still hear my father chanting and praying. I also was reminded that all prayer is valid. Even if a child can only utter three words of prayer, he/she will be heard. This letter was organized, concise, to the point, tender and relevant.

In "A 'mixing together' of religions" by Tacheeni Scott, it seemed the letter was to teach a new word followed by correct usage, applying methods used in elementary grade Think And Do books. Then the letter starts quoting the Bible. In the next paragraph, the cactus button is attacked, then over to the traditional Navajo Way summation, then back to the presidential race being determined by block voting.

It was difficult to determine what the writer was saying.

Patricia Martinez-Jim
Standing Rock, N.M.

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