Missed opportunity at education conference

WINDOW ROCK, Oct. 10, 2013

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President Shelly and Vice President Jim failed to come up with ideas to improve the Dineh Nation and the lives of average Navajo citizens in their speeches last week during the Fall NCA Education Conference in Albuquerque.

Upgrading the nation's access to technology and understanding our culture and the historical struggles of Navajo people are commendable goals that our two top leaders have suggested are major goals for bolstering the Navajo education system. And who could possibly oppose our children learning to speak Navajo and know Navajo culture.

These speeches were a chance for our leaders to present a grand vision for Dineh Nation to move forward and come to terms with the hard realities Navajo schools face. The occasion has to be counted as a major missed opportunity.

The biggest threat to Navajo's prosperity and political viability is the brain drain and endless poor school leadership, yet the president and vice president offered no reforms for ensuring strong school leadership development and for electing top-quality school board members.

A case in point is the Window Rock Unified School District. The board recently rewarded the superintendent with a $50,000 raise even though the district has failed over a period of seven years to make AYP. And the district received a grade of D over these years, yet the board claims she is doing a good job. By reforming the Department of Diné Education to a status of a state department of education might help to correct these examples of poor leadership. It won't be easy and maybe not doable at all in this current climate of faint leadership.

On these issues, the president and vice president offered no specifics, and were less than candid on how much of new leadership or sacrifice is needed to get the job done.

It is hard to imagine that the programs they put forward, such as technology-driven schools and allowing students to use cell phones in the classrooms to do research, can be achieved without requiring Navajo parents to spend more of their hard earned funds.

And how do they plan to get all this done?

Offering a set of worthy goals to a body of Navajo educators in a major speech is all well and good, but leadership requires a plan to get the job done and Department of Diné Education officials aren't likely to salute and obey just because they say these are good ideas.

Unfortunately, the speeches were long on tribal politics and ideas and short of specifics. The only part that seemed to go over well was their presence at the conference, which sadly only reminded us that election is on the horizon. Making progress on improving Navajo schools may be an even greater challenge than fixing the U.S. debt, but with strong leadership and real planning, neither is insurmountable.

Wallace Hanley
Window Rock, Ariz.


Researching family history

My wife and I adopted two teenagers, David and Nadia, from Kansas foster care several years ago. They are now 17 and 14. I am researching their family history to help them understand who they are and where they come from. Their mother, Deb, was always told that she was part Navajo, but she was adopted at birth. She grew up in Wichita, Kan.

I have been able to find some information about Donna, her biological mother (my children's biological grandmother), who grew up in Rexford, Kan., a small town in the western part of the state. Unfortunately, she had a very serious drug problem and killed herself in 1981. I've also discovered that she was adopted at birth, so that makes three generations of adoptions now. Donna was white, with blond hair and blue eyes.

I have now discovered that Donna got pregnant in 1968, at age 16, when the Navajo railroad crew was staying in town. I talked to some of her friends from that time, and they remember her hanging around with the men a lot. When she was later asked by the social workers who the father of her baby was, she gave them a name of a white boy in town who had dark hair and eyes, and said he might be part Navajo. After the baby girl was born, and she looked "very much Indian," Donna changed her story and said the white father was probably half Navajo.

I have tracked down the man that she named, and he is white, and almost certainly not the grandfather of my children. Donna's friends told me they are sure the father is one of the Navajo men who were working on the railroad that year.

Being able to gain tribal membership is not important to my children, but knowing their grandfather and their heritage is important. My son, David, is applying to colleges, and he is always asked to list his race and ethnicity. He keeps asking, "What am I?" Other people think he is Mexican, but I try to tell him that he is Native American. It's hard for him because he doesn't know.

It would be so wonderful to be able to share with him his family history and a connection with the past. It's very hard for adopted children to know where they belong.

I also have a couple of pictures of Donna from 1968. Perhaps someone would remember her from her picture. I would very much like to find my children's family. I am look for any information from anyone who might remember working in Rexford, in the fall of 1968. Perhaps they would remember a girl named Donna who was hanging around the bunk cars a lot.

Jason Miller
Newton, Kan.

'Strangers among ourselves'

The Navajo Nation has made much progress in education and the development of our resources in the past 50 years. We have housing with utilities and better roads, yet with these improvements, we are experiencing the problems of urbanization such as the loss of close family ties, the erosion of our cultural heritage and the loss of our traditional values.

Our close relationship based on our clan relationship is disappearing such as uncles, fathers and mothers, aunts, cousins, etc. These close relationships are being replaced by informed relationships such as "Hi", "Yateeh" and a handshake as it is in the outside world. We are becoming strangers among ourselves. A mutual respect and care is replaced by a relationship not based on care or respect.

Many parents are saying that their children are strangers to them and that they are in their own worlds with their friends or sidekicks. Even worse, many are into drugs and gangs with their rules of survival in their own worlds.

We have lost or are losing the glue that holds a family together -- love, respect, honor, and care. This is our challenge and we must face this challenge with courage, determination, responsibilities, and care.

Daniel Peaches
Kayenta, Ariz.

Decentralization a cover-up of failure

Navajo government has pulled another magic rabbit out of a hat known as de-centralization or regionalization. It's another cover-up of their failure. They could not adequately fund or improve the Local Governance Act to succeed to benefit the 110 local communities to succeed in economic developments and community developments. No different as tea party refusing to fund the Obamacare, which is the law of the land.

Navajo government has fiduciary responsibility to account for public funds, to manage finances wisely, and to plan for the adequate funding of services desired by the Navajo people. This is Navajo Nation Appropriations Act. It's also the law of our land and just as Local Governance Act. Five local governance service centers, five offices in five agencies to serve 110 chapters with over 180,000 Navajo population, LGSC offices only employ an average of six personnel per office and four are professional employees that try to assist 20 to 30 chapters at one time. This is an impossible task. Unable to assist a chapter to a successful development while acquiring funds which also has to survive a bureaucratic process done by central government. Process takes months, years, or never.

Central government has 60 tribal departments taking $570 million out of $587 million comprehensive budget giving scraps to 110 chapters and keeping 180,000 Navajos living in poverty with no jobs on the reservation. Navajo government has gotten so big it consumes more resource than feral horses.

Uncle Sam has been sending us a lot of money for decades and hardly any makes it to the local level for infrastructures and to develop economic, which would create jobs and improve living standards, but it's all consumed by tribal enterprises known as tribal corporate welfares, and our huge central government.

Till the day we see our leaders decide to invest in our community developments and economic developments at our 110 local communities, we will see some progress. Right now it's all invested in bureaucracy in Window Rock. Navajo Nation government been spending half a billion dollars a year and we are still in the state of Third World country.

Navajo Nation president vetoed $8.7 million dollars that could have benefited the Navajo people at the local level is only one example. Throwing $3 million to get rid of LGSC offices that ran on fumes for 15 years and replaced it with $3 million de-centralization. Grazing officials were underfunded for decades, unable to manage horse population and then when a couple million appropriated, grazing officials still got nothing but only looked on and watched central government drive new equipment rounding up feral horses at $90 dollar a horse and some places they only captured three horses.

Council members (are being investigated now for stealing) $200,000 of discretionary funds and we spend over $5 million dollars on non-Navajo prosecutors investigating this ill practice. I only moved back four years ago and it's just unbelievable how I see this.

Lester Begay
Burnham, N.M.

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