Shelly challenges new leaders to grow economy

By Cindy Yurth
Tseyi' Bureau

TUBA CITY, January 17, 2013

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A s the newly elected leaders of Western Agency were sworn into office last Thursday against the backdrop of the world's largest Navajo rug, President Ben Shelly warned them they were embarking on their political journeys during some of the roughest seas to face the Navajo Nation in a long time.

Depending on what comes out of the federal budget negotiations, Shelly said, the Nation stands to lose anywhere between five and 15 percent of its federal subsidies - some $25 to $75 million.

"What does that spell?" asked Shelly. "Layoffs."

Shelly said the only way the Nation can avoid that fate is by replacing federal grants with homegrown economic development.

"Shi nanitaa'ii, I need a plan," he charged the new chapter officials and school board members.

The Nation's top executive pointed to a number of issues facing Western Agency: the renegotiation of the lease for the Navajo Generating Station, the development of the former Bennett Freeze, the squabbles between the Navajo Housing Authority and Navajo Nation Council over the housing plan, rampant unemployment.

However he also called Western Agency a land of resources, including coal, oil, gas and sunshine for solar energy.

"It's going to take you, naat'aanii," he said. "Embrace the interest of the Navajo people. The Navajo people's interest is jobs."

Pointing to the huge rug hanging behind him, woven by a team of 10 craftswomen in Chilchinbeto in the 1970s, Shelly declared, "Nothing's impossible."

Leonard Chee, acting director of the Division of Community Development and a resident of Leupp Chapter, suggested a slaughterhouse or meat-packing plant might be a good industry for Western Agency, pointing out $30 to $40 million is made off Navajo cattle once they are sold off the reservation.

But he said economic development will not progress until grazing permit holders become less selfish with the land.

"We can talk all we want about community development, but when it comes to the land, we keep saying 'Dooda!'" he said.

Lightening the mood was Tuba City entertainer James Bilagody, who led the crowd of attendees at Grey Hills Academy's auditorium in a rousing chant of "Hey Boss, hey Boss!" to welcome the newly elected leaders to their posts as he danced with a somewhat reluctant First Lady Martha Shelly.

Bilagody had his own advice for the new chapter leaders, saying he was concerned about their health because they shake so many hands.

"You don't know what kind of diseases people are carrying," he deadpanned. "Use that liquid (hand sanitizer). Pour some whiskey on them if that's all you have. That's the only good use for that stuff."

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