Gov't not designed to meet needs of people

WINDOW ROCK, Jan. 16, 2014

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This letter is in response to the "Government Reform" issue. I want to share a disturbing opinion from a professional consultant that I heard in the 70s when I attended a director's meeting in Albuquerque.

The presenting consultant at that meeting was an expert on types of governments around the world. I asked him what type of government system the Navajo tribal government was and this was his answer: "Put all the worst elements of governments from all over the world together and that is Navajo tribal government."

Thus, our tribal government has been experiencing a crisis because it is not designed to meet the needs of the people. This ongoing dysfunction is due to the original historical intention of the federal government to set up the tribal government system for the purpose of signing off on exporting all the natural resources. This was the sole purpose of the tribal council's inappropriate function. They were paid for signing agreements/contracts and their payment for signing off on them was and is to export our natural resources. This money-laundering practice became known by tribal politicians as "The Green River." Now, all our resources are exploited, exported and depleted. Pollution is left behind and many people are suffering consequent diseases.

The chairmanship type of government was designed so that the chairman was the chairman of the Navajo Tribal Council and the Tribal Council was the governing body of the Navajo people. The federal government in collusion with special interest agencies controlled the chairman and the chairman controlled the Tribal Council; and, the Tribal Council controlled the people and the natural resources of the Navajo Nation through the use of "The Green River," money laundering -- bribes, kickbacks and outright overt "permission" to embezzle.

This is how the tribal government was designed to fail because it was not designed to meet the needs of the Navajo people, it was designed to exploit our natural resources and victimize the people. This is a definition of colonialism, which is called capitalism today. The federal government continues to maintain control via the Federal Law 93-638, the mechanism for self-termination when all the resources have been depleted.

The so-called three-branch government is still a two-branch government. The president is only a figurehead and the Council is still "the governing body of the Navajo people" with all the powers of the former 88 member Council. Furthermore, "The Green River" is still flowing into the pockets of our tribal politicians. Another aspect of exploitation of resources and victimization of people on the reservation is called the "Brain Drain" where Navajo human creativity has been driven off reservation by a combination of exclusion strategies like boarding school, urban relocation and a redesigned personnel system that excludes Navajo employment applicants from residing and making a living in their birthplace.

Navajo professionals from colleges and universities live in urban areas for their livelihood, instead of returning to the Navajo Nation to build our nation with their knowledge and skills. Having observed this mass exodus, leaving young people, elders and non-Navajos, it appears we are deteriorating, instead of thriving.

Therefore, a few years ago I organized Native American Indian Embassy to create a professional "community of practice" to design strategies for successful outcomes for the Navajo Nation, especially the next generation of young people who want to live and work in their homeland. All nations around the world have an "embassy" to find creative solutions for their people, except the American Indians.

Peter Deswood is the current president of the Native American Indian Embassy in Albuquerque, at the national level. The Board will meet at the Embassy Hotel on March 8 to draft a "K'e" appropriate Navajo government with participation by interested Navajo people to be presented to the Navajo Tribal Council before the 2014 election. All Navajo students and graduates who were told to "get an education and come home to help your people" are encouraged to lead the way by helping the Native American Indian Embassy to reframe our tribal government out of making destructive choices into practicing constructive choices. By using the practical traditional meaning of "K'e'" in leadership, communication and teamwork relationships in combination with the best of today's technology, we can co-create an authentic sovereign Diné Nation.

I plan to write an on-going history of the Navajo Nation government like I said before, "the good, the bad and the ugly" having worked within it for 30 years. We must teach our youth that "no means no" and "yes means yes" and not deceive them with the mixed message that "no means yes and yes mean no". We must not continue this type of confusion and dishonesty.

Ralph U. Davis
Chief Executive Officer
Native American Indian Embassy
Albuquerque, N.M.

Opposition of same-sex marriage

Hello. My name is Kenard Dillon. I am of the Bitter Water Clan, born for the Apache Standing Rocks Clan. I was born, raised and educated on the Navajo Nation in Tuba City. I am 18 years old and currently in my first year of study at Harvard University, where I hope to concentrate in history or government.

Recently, I stumbled upon an article in The Albuquerque Journal, which highlighted the plethora of delegates to the Navajo Nation Council, including Speaker Johnny Naize, that oppose same-sex marriage under Navajo jurisdiction, in lieu of its recent legalization in New Mexico, on whose land the reservation stretches into.

Given the jurisdictional nightmare, I know that such unions are currently prohibited under a 2005 law, passed following an override of Joe Shirley's veto, and that for the most part it is a nonissue amongst tribal members. Although marriage equality itself is a complicated issue in the queer community and is not a priority for me personally, Speaker Naize's comments remain unacceptable. They are not only unsettling to me as a queer individual, but also completely unfounded to me as a Navajo.

Naize backed up his views with claims that such beliefs have always been part of Navajo culture and can be found woven into our traditional stories and religious dogma.

"The tradition with that says that the marriage has to be between a man and woman. That's how we respect our tradition," he said. He is wrong to declare such prohibition is respectful of our traditionsÑit is the opposite.

Under my own lens of understanding cultural tradition, atypical gender and sexual relations were never an issue for the Navajo, and his comments seemed flawed at best.

Our traditions as Diné people should be the parts of our culture that fill us with pride, not tools of prejudice used to discriminate against our own, which undoubtedly distorts and damages them.

Naize has his right to speak out on marriage equality, as a private citizen, but none whatsoever as a leader to hide behind tradition in attempt to justify legal discrimination on our reservation. It begs to question why someone with such ignorant views can be elected to tribal office.

Furthermore, if the Constitution and legal system of the United States guarantee "equal justice under law," and our own cultural traditions promote equality for all beings, why then do current tribal laws reflect the opposite? Why do they betray our own cultural values?

For our pre-contact ancestors, who operated under a communal, socialist, libertarian and egalitarian system, this must seem abhorrent.

The views that the speaker and many contemporary Navajos hold are the byproduct of our "civilization," "Americanization," and "Christianization" by the United States government, which did nothing more than nearly annihilate us and our way of life, leading us into the present system of socioeconomic subjugation. What his comments and their context do, however, is shed light on more pervasive and hidden facets of the problems that remain inherent and entrenched in contemporary Navajo society -- inviting a much-needed discussion and reparation.

We can do so much better than this. I and other queer/LGBT Navajos deserve so much more than this vitriol coming from our leaders. Having grown up gay on the Navajo Nation, free of any pressure or harassment to conform to gender and sexual binaries, I am proud of my Navajo identity and the rich tradition that entails, but not the current complacency of my fellow Diné with regard to social issues.

Kenard Dillon
Cambridge, Mass.
(Hometown: Tuba City, Ariz.)

An image of the Ramah Diné

Ramah Diné people have always considered this area as their home because one of the sacred mountains can be seen from the Pine Hill area, Tsoo' dzi? (Mountain Taylor).

Before Fort Sumner in the early 1,500s Diné people roamed this area and has a lot of history, like when the conquistadors visited El Morro, a pioneer wagon trail west, mormons and ranchers who came to this land. These are just a few events mentioned.

The Ramah Diné lived around the Little Onion area just above the falls, valleys and on the many mesas along the south side of Ii'ni'dzii? (Strong Thunder or Zuni Mountains), and north to Wingate and Breadsprings areas, then south to Quemado before Fort Sumner. After Fort Sumner, some families returned from the north, others from the south and east. Some were hiding in the mountains.

After their return, the railroads had claimed lands then were resold to non-Diné. The Diné did not understand land sales at the time. The people lived in good areas but were told to move. Land was set-aside for them in the south in Lava Country.

Before the 1930s, Ramah Diné land base was from the Ice Caves down south to Pie Town and west to Salt Lake then up north to Fence Lake along the Zuni borders to Ramah Valley on to Ii'ni' dziil. The leaders at the time were asked to mark either with an X or O. They had chosen the X, which made the land checkerboard. If they had chosen the O, it would have been like the other reservations.

After the land grants were issued and settlers came, Ramah Diné ended up with the present day reservation. The 1980s Land Trust Claim were reestablished but the Ramah Diné did not know how much money was theirs. The paperwork is located in Window Rock.

Ramah Chapter House is in Mountain View, N.M., which is located 16 miles south east of Ramah Village. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, the local Diné people conducted their meetings under arbor sitting on the ground. Later on, a large hogan was built for meetings. The hogan is still present.

In the 1930s and the early 1940s, Ramah Diné children were sent away to schools, most were five-year vocational schools. A preschool was built in Mountain View and the building is still present. At this time dams and farming equipments were given out. The BIA Agency was located in Zuni.

As the Ramah Diné increased and more of the kids were sent off to school their families wanted their kids to stay close to home. The Ramah Diné started the first ever school board and five members were selected. The first thing they built was a dormitory in Ramah Valley. This was in the 1960s. They remodeled the old high school and reopened in the early 1970s. Later on some of the students were bused in for elementary and high school.

Soon after the Ramah Diné people went through chapter meetings and asked the five members to go to Washington D.C. to ask the government for funding to make a school because of their treaty rights to education. After five years in 1975, the first-ever Native school was open. I remember that opening day everyone was one minded, happy and dressed in their finest. They had a big feast but now a few of those elders remain. It was a beautiful brand new school in Pine Hill. It had a gymnasium and a cafeteria. The teachers were from all over the country and were filled with visions.

Later on, other facilities were built like a radio station, clinic, transportation department, business office, post office, grocery store, Laundromat, and a dormitory. At Mountain View other buildings like the chapter house, agency, senior center, 638 offices, police station, and natural resource were built. Many of the staff that worked with the school have moved on to become great leaders in both Navajo Nation and Anglo society. The students became proud stewardship of Ramah Diné people.

This is just the tip of the story that I enjoyed sharing with the readers of this great community. The community is rich with different variety of people and is blessed with artists, craftsmen and creative people with good visions. I hope that everyone has got a positive image of this area.

Nixion Martinez
Pine Hill, N.M.

Is doing business on the Nation risky?

First, the usual disclaimers: The opinions in this letter are my own and not those of any present or past employer or client.

Whether the Navajo Nation's purchase of the Navajo Mine was wise or not, since it is a "done deal" I am sure that most Navajos and most of us outsider observers who want the Navajo Nation and its people to succeed hope the purchase turns out to have been a wise decision that brings income to the nation and continued employment to those who work at the mine and Four Corners Generating Station.

I would focus instead on the "last hurdle," the requirement that certain disputes be heard in or through state courts. I understand that being required to have disputes arising in the Navajo Nation heard elsewhere is offensive to Navajo concepts of sovereignty.

As someone who has practiced in the Navajo Courts for more than 35 years I know that my experience and that of almost all practitioners in the Navajo Courts is that they do provide "equal justice under law" to parties whether they are Navajo or non-Navajo. So the history of outsiders in Navajo Courts does not justify the demand for an outside forum. But I certainly can understand how an outsider, particularly one being asked to invest large sums in the Navajo Nation, who does not have years of dealing with the Navajo Nation could be uncomfortable about the Navajo government.

As the Navajo Times end-of-year story on the Judicial Branch pointed out, the Navajo Nation Supreme Court operates out of an old warehouse that was in poor shape when I officed there more than 30 years ago and the Supreme Courtroom is an old temporary metal building more than 50 years old. More importantly, for most of the last two decades, the nation has failed to fill the vacancy in the third Supreme Court Justice. And as the Navajo Times article noted, the lack of a third justice and the lack of adequate funding means the Supreme Court is not up-to-date in its appellate work.

The Window Rock Judicial District, which is the "point of contact" for most outsiders with the Navajo Justice System and should be its "shining star" is woefully inadequate and sits next to an administration building (now being repaired), which has stood empty for years because of environmental issues. The continuing "slush fund" charges against many Navajo elected leaders - and the failure of many charges to be resolved for years - raises real questions about whether the Navajo government is honest and can be trusted. The attempts by the Navajo Nation Council to remove the Navajo attorney generals and the vicious personal attacks by some Navajos on Department of Justice lawyers would reasonably cause outsiders to be nervous about the stability of the Navajo government.

Anyone who looks at the efforts for significant economic development in the past comes up with a few successes and many stories of outsiders who have come to the Navajo Nation with nothing but empty promises and who leave not a legacy of successful development, but leave only with Navajo money and yet another failed promise. An outsider visiting the Navajo Auditors General's website might gain the impression that most Navajo divisions, departments, and chapters were corrupt, and even if this is clearly not the case and really the nation deserves credit for its transparency, the image is of a government where dishonesty is rife.

If you add to this, the corruption problems in the Navajo Nation Bar Association; the "badging wars" between the chief prosecutor and the U.S. Department of Justice; the school system which rarely meets Adequate Yearly Progress (or other standard measures of academic success); the quorum problems in the Navajo Nation Council and its committees, it is easy to see why outsiders are nervous about investments in the Navajo Nation and insist on both waivers of Navajo sovereign immunity and determination of disputes in non-Navajo forums.

To be sure, perhaps most of these situations, which give the impression that doing business in the Navajo Nation is risky, arise from inadequate funding both of the Navajo Nation government and, where the nation has money, funding by the Navajo Nation government. But there remains conduct by Navajos, which is counterproductive and harms the chances of a better future for and by Navajos and harms Navajo sovereignty as well.

Lawrence A. Ruzow
Flagstaff, Ariz.

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