Monday, October 2, 2023

Guest Column | Overpromising and under-delivering

By Greg H. Bigman

On January 10th, the Navajo Nation marked its 100th anniversary with the 25th Council. Historically, Inauguration Day showcases the president taking office with Council in the backdrop.

Council’s actions and meetings were once considered invisible to the public due to many reasons, from the numerous unreported meetings, discussions that are not understood, and perhaps even the lack of understanding as to what the governing body of the Navajo Nation entails.

The general public’s primary understanding stems from the way Council was formed and the reason behind Council’s formation.

When the first commercial oil well was drilled, Hogback 1 (within the Navajo Nation and in the State of New Mexico), the Council was formed in order for the Navajo Nation to authorize a contract with Midwest Refining Company. As a result, the handpicked Council was first established in 1923.

This newly formed government was created with appointed members by the Bureau of Indian Affairs to approve natural resource agreements.

Over the years, our government has changed from a chairmanship to the Office of the President and Vice President; from 88 Council delegates to the current 24 Council delegates; from the Courts of Indian Offences to the legislatively enacted Navajo Nation Judicial Branch; and from an appellate court to the current Supreme Court with a chief justice. All these initiatives were pivotal bold changes aimed at strengthening the Navajo people’s voice through the peoples’ initiative.

One hundred years later, the Navajo people continue to vote every four years, opting for the candidate who promises change within our government. This change over in this recent election cycle showed a turnover for a majority of the Council, our governing body. Transparency, accountability, government reform, and excessive regulatory restrictions have been the topic of debate for the past several elections.

As the 25th Council and 10th president of the Navajo Nation take their oaths, the optimism that our government will continue down a path of promised change will be seen within all areas of our Nation. With the newly elected officials, our people demonstrated through their votes that our government desperately needs to improve in order for our Nation to not only legitimize itself, from within and externally, so economic development can prosper, and our people’s needs can be addressed.

Establishing a government that is the legitimacy for our people essentially translates to the need for more transparency and accountability. Many activities that continue to raise eyebrows are reports of excessive travel, meetings, and more meetings. While at the same time, the needs of the people continue to grow exponentially.

A government that is legitimate from the outside means expending funds efficiently and effectively where the money is expected to make an impact in addressing the people’s needs, such as housing development, mediating the Covid pandemic, and public and social welfare services. The past unfair dealings of lease agreements for natural resources continue to leave a sour taste in our mouths due to the unfair exchanges questioning our leader’s stewardship and land management.

Natural resource activities such as uranium, oil, and gas extraction, with the recent being helium extraction. As the newly elected take their oaths, what will the next 100 years of our Nation look like? The Treaty ensured our ability to live within the four sacred mountains, education for our children, and other provisions that guaranteed us certain rights and privileges.

Presently, our people face many disparities and discriminations like lack of quality education, poor health care, lack of roads and infrastructure, and limited economic development. At the same time, the states surrounding our Nation continue to push back and create additional hurdles for our people. The continued sovereign well-being of the Navajo Nation and our people is at risk.

Diminish funding and loss of administrative control are threads that can initiate the deconstructing of our sovereignty. The issues are growing from one year to the next with the placement of our children in the Indian Child Welfare Act, water rights settlement, health care, education administration, prosecution of crimes in our Nation, and development of our communities.

Progress for our Nation is deeply impacted by all three head leaders: the chief justice, the president, and the speaker of the Navajo Nation Council.

Having a good speaker is much like our stories of having a leader who can see the key priorities from the 10,000-foot level with the threats and landscape and evaluate the close detail range. A good speaker also has the values of honesty, compassion, and trustworthiness to keep the Council together and work with the president.

Much like our stories, the Council will often be divided like night and day with big issues like central versus delocalized government, conservative versus liberal ideologies, or even religious views. A good leader will bring people together and put people first. This person can see the issues to help focus the discussion on key issues, not the special interest focus that only benefits a few.

In our stories, we went through Tł’iish tsoh, Náshdóítsoh, Shash, Mą’iitsoh, and Dahsání to find the right leader. I am sure the next leader will make many prayers, blessings, and offerings for the speakership. Still, this decision will boil down to the 24 Council delegates to shape the destiny of the 25th Navajo Nation Council and our beloved Navajo Nation.


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