Rangeland improvement act is poorly drafted

WINDOW ROCK,April 24, 2014

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I n an attempt to revitalize Navajo rangelands and improve livestock, the Navajo Nation Department of Agriculture and local Navajo grazing district committee members developed the Navajo Rangeland Improvement Act of 2014.

While the intent of the act is to improve the land and the quality of livestock, it is so poorly drafted that it creates more confusion, controversy, and conflict than its advocates' claim it resolves.

Most alarming is Section 324. This section states, "No deceased person shall be buried on Navajo rangeland," further stating that deceased persons are to be buried in designated burial cites. Without legislative language exempting pre-existing family burials within rangelands, the application of this section would require Navajo people to exhume their loved ones and move their loved one's remains to designated burial sites.

In addition to this blatant violation of Navajo fundamental law, drafts of the act currently being circulated by representatives of the Department of Agriculture includes erroneous citations that do not exist or are cited incorrectly, creating confusion.

The act is further troubling for rodeo livestock owners. Under Section 322, "All rodeo stock and stallions" will be prohibited. The act then states violators will be in trespass, citing subchapter 5 that does not exist in the versions of the act that is being distributed.

Without a definition of "rodeo stock" in Section 104, definitions, are Navajo rodeo people to conclude that horses for barrel racing, roping, and bulldogging are prohibited from Navajo rangeland? What of Navajo rodeo livestock contractors? Are they left without a business and livelihood?

Additionally, the act provides an array of various fines and fees, some of which are known, and many unknown. For example, Section 313 (C) (1) states that a service fee, administrative fee, and/or inspection fee will be assessed and taken as payment for range technicians (presumably former grazing district committee members) for inspections, bills of sale, and certificates of acknowledgement.

The act does not clarify who or what entity will develop a fee schedule. Without uniform fee schedule, are we Navajo livestock owners to conclude that fees will be arbitrarily developed, applied and enforced by range technicians?

The act also violates the separation of powers codified in Title 2 of the Navajo Nation Code. Section314 (B) establishes, through the legislative process, a 50-cent fee for every head of livestock.

It is unusual for a legislative body to make an administrative determination, in this case a fee for livestock. Such determinations are usually exercised by the administration, in this case the director of the Department of Agriculture.

The issue is further complicated when and if the fee is increased or decreased. In this case, for a 1-cent increase or decrease to the fee, the entire Navajo Nation Council will have to convene to make an amendment to Section 314 (B). Administrative functions, such as fee schedules, should be determined by an agency of the administration.

The confusion, controversy and conflict also touches the main thrust of the act: the surrendering of grazing permits and the presumption that permits will be reissued. According to several sections that establish application procedures and requirements for Navajo people seeking to acquire a new permit or a reissued permit. In the hypothetical instance, if a Navajo person does not meet any of the requirements (i.e. age, tribal membership, customary use area, conservation management plan, etc.), then a permit may not be issued or reissued.

It's one thing to have a livestock permit, but it is another thing to have adequate rangeland to graze the livestock. Without one, the other is of no use. The deficiencies of the act are numerous.

Another example surrounds procedural questions on the authorities and coordination between the Office of Hearing and Appeals, Navajo Nation courts, and the presumption that in certain cases the agriculture director's role as mediator, decision maker, and chief enforcement officer.

There is also the troubling question on whether the Navajo Nation government must compensate property owners for "taking" property. In this case the possible reduction of livestock and property interests in fencing improvements. And by the way, how much is this going to cost Navajo people?

Conservative estimates puts the dollar amount at $2 million while more realistic estimates the amount at $4 million, a majority of which will be passed on to Navajo livestock owners through the use of fines and fees.

Given the act's confusion, controversy, and conflict, one would expect that Department of Agriculture representatives, including Director Leo Watchman Jr., in collaboration with grazing district committee members, would articulately, accurately, and fairly explain to Navajo people and livestock owners the benefits and burdens of the act.

However, in chapter after chapter, and on KTNN radio, Navajo Nation representatives and officials, with silver tongues, have heralded the act's magnificence. They have shamelessly advocated support for the act despite its glaring deficiencies.

On ending, there are a number of suggestions I offer. First, the attorney advising on the rangeland improvement act should be reprimanded for slapping together poorly drafted legislation, rife with conflicting sections, lack of due process, and fines and jail punishment disproportionate with the violations, and erroneous legislative citation.

Given the admission by Watchman that the current grazing regulations could work "if they were actually enforced" ("Ag Department floats a far-ranging proposal," Navajo Times, Jan. 23, 2014), I suggest a comprehensive review of the enforcement provisions be undertaken, with an eye on restructuring enforcement and accountability. Fix the broken parts, support and strengthen the working parts.

Milton Bluehouse Jr.
Ganado, Ariz.

Dirty fuel leaves legacy of destruction

The recent chain of dirty energy disasters, including the 1979 Uranium Spill in Church Rock, N.M., has made it clear that no matter where it takes place, dirty fuel development leaves a legacy of destruction, threatening our water, communities and special places.

Our relatives in the Eastern Navajo Nation are familiar with local disasters, especially the infamous 1979 Church Rock uranium spill. An earthen dam collapsed releasing 1,100 tons of radioactive tailings and 94 million gallons of toxic wastewater in the Puerco River. The spill was the largest release of radioactive waste, by volume, in U.S. history, and ranks second only to the Chernobyl nuclear reactor accident in total radiation release.

Although it has been over 35 years since the spill, Navajo Nation chapters 80 miles downstream from Church Rock continue to live with countless unknown contamination impacts. Many residents continue to suffer from health effects associated with the uranium spill. There has been no priority given to clean up this toxic legacy. Why do we allow many people to continue to be exposed to dangerous contamination?

This is a constant public hazard because natural elements will spread contamination. Mining uranium using conventional or in situ leach is not clean or safe. As a dirty fuel, uranium processing has a carbon footprint of its own. Uranium mining, milling, processing, and disposing of the waste requires fossil fuel energy that release greenhouse gasses. But the impacts don't stop there.

According to a U.S. Geological Service estimate, by developing the Mancos Shale in the San Juan Basin area it could also release as much as 50 trillion cubic feet of technically recoverable shale gas contained within the basin, equating to nearly 3 billion tons of carbon dioxide of carbon pollution that could dramatically alter our climate.

A new report from the Sierra Club highlights the scale of the threat. Mancos Shale fracking for oil and gas would result in one-half more carbon pollution than would be saved by new fuel economy standards. We need to leave dirty fuels in the ground and focus instead on available and affordable clean energy technologies.

Ron Kinsel
Lukachukai, Ariz.

Looking for my Navajo grandfather

My name is David Montelongo. I am looking for my Navajo grandfather. I'm 17 years old, and I've been told that I have Navajo family. My mother was adopted as a baby, and I was adopted as a teenager. I want to find my family.

My grandmother was named Donna Preston. She lived in Rexford, Kan., a small town in the northwest corner of Kansas. In October of 1968, my grandmother was 16 years old. She got pregnant by a man on the Navajo railroad crew who was staying in Rexford. This man (or boy) worked for the Rock Island Railroad. The Navajo track crew laid 15 miles of new rails near Rexford and Colby, Kan., during 1968 and 1969.

My grandmother died in 1981. She would be 61 years old if she were still living. My grandfather is probably in his 60s by now.

If you were on the Rock Island Railroad track crew in 1968, or you know someone who was on the crew, please contact me. Please help me find my Navajo grandfather.

You can email me at davidmontelongo@gmail.com, call me at 620-747-0290, or write me at 423 W. 9th, Newton, KS 67114.

David Montelongo
Newton, Kan.

Reasons why Shirley should not be re-elected

I don't know about you, but almost everyone has talked or mentioned change in the Navajo Nation government system. But the system has not changed. The voices of the Navajo Nation citizens have greatly diminished, and many Navajos just cowed or curled up or "looked the other way." One way to avoid this continuing fiasco is to move away from the reservation altogether. That is what many of the Diné people did. Kudos to Navajo citizens who are standing up to fight. There is still the integrated deep system among Navajo Nation top executives/delegates that needs to be exposed.

The amount of money or incentives these executives are paid out "under the table" by major companies and influential mongers are skewed from public eyes. When Navajo politicians quickly, abruptly, and without cause approve of something so controversial means the integrated deep system are at work (i.e., mine purchase and approval of an in-situ uranium mining contact with Uranium Resource Inc. in the checkerboard region of the Navajo Nation by only three Council delegates).

Here are the reasons why the Navajo people need not re-elect Joe Shirley Jr.'s despite his strong use of traditional Navajo language and style of presentation that is deceptive:

  • On Dec. 14, 2009, Window Rock District Court Judge Geraldine Benally issued a permanent injunction against enforcement of the tribal Council's vote. Then who is Benally and her legal conclusion on the outcomes? He was technically exonerated when he entered in agreements on behalf of Navajo Nation on OnSat Network Communications Inc. that billed Navajo Nation $32 million in 2006 and Biochemical Decontamination Systems that cost Navajo Nation $2 million in 2003.
  • Technically got off on Navajo Nation Council discretionary fund abuses although checks were processed and approved through his executive branch of government.
  • Dismissed former vice chairman Frank Dayish Jr. and conflicted with former vice chairman Ben Shelly (current president).
  • 2002 XIX Winter Olympic Navajo Nation Gateway Project abuse of privileges in access of over $1.75 million.
  • Closures of nonprofit organizations, including Four Corners Adolescence Treatment Center and 14 Boys & Girls Clubs on Navajo Nation.
  • Excessive abuse of privileges by first lady (Mrs. Shirley).
  • Mandated each of his appointed division directors donate $5,000 to his re-election campaign fund.
  • Saw $14.2 million potential diabetes prevention dollars in federal carryover in 2003, yet failed in Shirley's administration.
  • $55.8 million reverted back to federal and $15.8 million in state government for non-use or abused.
  • Abuse of power: He attempted to run for a third term, against the Navajo Nation Code. The Navajo Supreme Court ruled that Shirley's attempt for a third term was illegal. According to the Navajo Times, Shirley and staff attempted to buy over $100,000 worth of the nation's property for less than $6,000. The nation's Department of Justice later ruled the seizure illegal.

Helen Curley
Shiprock, N.M.

Veterans Affairs incapable of providing homes

The status report on new veterans' housing to the Budget & Finance Committee (Capital Briefs, April 10, 2014) proves beyond all doubt that the Department of Veterans Affairs is incapable of providing our warriors with homes fit for human beings.

Let's look back a couple of years when, after decades of flubbing even the most basic services to veterans, the supposedly reformed agency secured a dedicated source of funding for veteran houses and announced to great applause that it was building 19 new homes. Only now we learn they won't have flush toilets. Or stoves. Or any source of heat other than a wood stove. The supposed reason? Not enough money.

Where does DVA Director David Nez get the sheer gall to stand up before the delegates, who voted to set aside 2 percent of the tribe's annual general fund specifically for veteran housing, and tell them the problem is money?

The problem is Mr. Nez. The problem is an agency that continues to exemplify the worst kind of Third World governance. The problem is incompetent, self-entitled lifers who do the same rotten job year after year, secure that they will never be held personally accountable. We've seen plenty of that elsewhere in tribal government but really, of all constituent groups to screw over, the veterans? Have you no shame?

So what to do now about the latest mess. An audit, of course, to document how the plan for 19 new veteran homes got to 19 dwellings with the same amenities as a traditional hogan (but none of the advantages). But really, don't we all know how it will turn out? Gross mismanagement by people whose vision of government service is nothing more than a way to enrich your own family and friends.

Maybe it's time to do more than spread around the blame and paper it over with more money, gouged out of the feds if possible (us poor Indians deserve it, you know).

Maybe it's time to make incompetence -- or dishonesty, if it turns out to be the case -- cost some people their careers. Maybe it's time to hold those luckiest of Navajos -- the ones with tribal government jobs and all the benefits and security that come with them -- to the highest possible performance standards. Or maybe it's time to change the tribal motto to "Screw you, Jack, I got mine."

Alvin L. Charlie
Tohlakai, N.M.

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