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Letters: Ag Dept. does not help ranchers

This letter is in response to “Work session set on drought insurance conflict” printed in the Navajo Times on Aug. 8, 2019.

Agriculture Department Manager Leo Watchman said the ranchers would be better off allowing the tribe to collect and distribute the payments.

The grassroots Navajo grazing permittees all agree that they will not be better off with the Navajo Nation Department of Agriculture administrating the drought monies. The Agriculture Department will charge an administration fee and other fees. Aztec Farm Service Agency has never charged us an administration fee.

We are always paid the total amount of money we qualify for. To qualify for Farm Service Agency forage benefits, an applicant has to be a “livestock producer.” This is a very important qualifying factor. This is not difficult to understand. The Navajo grassroots grazing permittees are “livestock producers” since we operate/manage sheep and cattle on the Navajo Nation rangeland. Another qualifying factor is “risk factor.” We have risk factors since we lose animals to drought.

We are given permission with federal grazing permits issued to us by the U.S. Department of Interior signed by the Bureau of Indian Affairs superintendent. As livestock producers, we get out our tally counts done by our elected grazing official on a yearly basis since this is a document that is necessary in applying for FSA benefits.

The Farm Service Agency in Aztec, and our elected grazing official, keeps us in compliance with our animal count by showing our grazing permits and tally count as part of our application for FSA assistance. The Navajo Nation Department of Agriculture is not a “livestock producer” and therefore was never qualified to apply for Farm Service Agency farm tract number. The department also has no “risk factors” for applying for drought assistance since the department is not a livestock producer. How can Navajo Nation face “risk factors” without raising livestock?

Watchman mentions 1,000 ranchers who have been filing for compensation under the Farm Service Agency Livestock Forage Disaster Program. Is Department of Agriculture going to ignore these 1,000 Navajo ranchers who have been benefiting from the program? Watchman also mentions that the Livestock Forage Disaster Program is on the verge of disappearing. Throughout the history of USDA programs, USDA normally implements similar programs to the ones that are discontinued.

Our grandmothers, grandfathers, mothers, and fathers have benefited from the Wool Incentive programs for years. Watchman does not work for FSA and should not be speaking for them. I am glad that Watchman brought out erroneous payments. Erroneous payment could apply to the Department of Agriculture receiving drought insurance monies when it applied for farm tract number and received a number without being a “livestock producer.”

Fact sheet for Livestock Forage Disaster Program specifies that these programs are for livestock producers only. To find more information about FSA disaster assistance programs, visit or contact your local FSA office. The department does not operate any sheep or cattle on the Navajo Reservation.

Other tribes file for FSA benefits due to raising tribal cattle, which are not owned by individual tribal members but are owned by tribe as a whole such as Three Canyon Ranch operated by the Hopi Tribe. Ferdinand Notah stated that land is owned by the Navajo Nation and managed for the tribe by the BIA. Notah has his information on “who owns the Navajo Indian Reservation land” backwards. Our understanding is that the Navajo Reservation land is technically owned by the U.S. Department of Interior and managed by the BIA. This information is not at Notah’s discretion.

The Farm Service Agency does not draw rough sketches of the Navajo people’s customary use area. Our grazing permits specify range units. The Northern Agency BIA Natural Resources office has developed customary use area maps with acreage written within these range areas.

Our grazing permits have customary use area numbers on permits. Only a person whose name is on a grazing permit along with tally count can apply for compensation under FSA benefits. These programs are government programs and are very efficient in providing services to their customers.

Leo Watchman and Ferdinand Notah do not work for Farm Service Agency and should not be answering for it. A Navajo livestock producer receiving $280 from FSA is richer than receiving zero monies from Navajo Nation Department of Agriculture. Navajo grassroots permittees have never received any services from the department within maybe 30 years of their existence. What is the function of the department anyway besides taking farm tract numbers away from grassroots Navajo livestock producers, because we have not received any benefits or services from the department?

Reasons grassroots Navajo grazing permittees would like to continue receiving direct benefits from Farm Service Agency, Aztec, New Mexico, include:

• It doesn’t cost the Navajo Nation any expense. If there are expenses involved, rancher pays out of pocket.

• Navajo Nation doesn’t have to pay outrageous amounts of money for drought insurance out of the Navajo Nation treasury.

• Grassroots Navajo ranchers working directly with FSA save money for Navajo Nation General Fund.

• The Navajo Nation doesn’t have to manage and encounter livestock expense of hiring labor, branding, giving shots, and rounding up cattle, sheep, etc.

• Navajo Nation Department of Agriculture doesn’t need to search for assistance programs to generate revenues for the Navajo Nation.

Patty Redhorse Benally
T’iis Tsoh Sikaad (Burnham), N.M.

Ag Dept. using erroneous data

Diné government deserves criticism for its Department of Agriculture corruption. Continued reports of corruption reflects negative implication of Nez-Lizer administration. Nez-Lizer pre-election campaign emphasized changes. NNDA leadership needs changes. Another NNDA corruption, the program director accused a rancher of having 40 percent increase in carrying capacity (overgrazing) when the rancher is practicing rotational grazing method in two grazing areas six months apart at high-elevation green pastures.

It is called land restoration. The rancher has only 2,500-acre customary use area for grazing as compared to 3.2-million-acre range vegetation study done through BIA contract in 2015.

The range study reports 40 percent increase in carrying capacity (overgrazing) in 3.2 million acre rangeland with 3,845 grazing permits. Worse case scenario is NNDA director convinced District Grazing Committee to cancel one man’s grazing permit for overgrazing. Using 40 percent increase carrying capacity reported for millions of acre range study as justification to cancel one grazing permit used as rotational grazing practice is wrong and outright abuse of authority.

Overpopulation of feral horses grazing yearlong in the same grazing area of concern was not considered in the plan to cancel one man’s permit. Carrying capacity is the maximum number of livestock that rangeland will support without deterioration. It is done through field range utilization study by a certified range specialist to determine season of use, recommended grazing system, forage production, soil and water analysis, wildlife habitat, and analyze collected data to write grazing prescription. The end result is percent carrying capacity analysis. It is program corruption for ag director’s refusal to request range study for one rancher to prove that his 40 percent increase carry capacity is valid.

He did not justify how 40 percent increase carrying capacity was determined for one small grazing area with green pastures. Bureau of Indian Affairs lacking technical assistance is just as bad. BIA to not advise NNDA and district grazing committee that using 40 percent increase carrying capacity for one rancher’s use area is wrong.

It is BIA’s responsibility to ensure accuracy of resource conservation records. NNDA 40% increase carrying capacity determination is not federal record if not done by a certified professional. Jerome Willie, BIA range specialist, is the technical advisor to question how 40 percent increase carrying capacity was determined by NNDA.

It’s his job to determine his own carrying capacity computation and compare the accuracy of NNDA 40% figure. Mr. Willie has federal trust responsibility to advise the grazing committees and NNDA that they need his range study to compare accuracy of NNDA 40% increase carrying capacity for two small use areas with sufficient vegetation. Falsification of record and non-compliance with Department of Interior Executive Order 13175 are other issues.

It is fabrication of record for NNDA to use 40% increase carrying capacity reported in the millions of acre range study. Department of Interior implemented Executive Order 13175 as joint federal/tribal government-to-government relation mandate that directs decision-makers to follow appropriate tribal consultation process. This did not happen with NNDA assertion of 40 percent increase carrying capacity for one rancher using rotational grazing system six months apart in two locations.

There is no proof of NNDA and BIA action to the 40% increase carrying capacity for one rancher. The only proof is injustice to the permittee. This is program corruption by two government entities. Jerome Willie, Leo Watchman, Bill Spencer, or anyone must prove me wrong.

Nels Roanhorse
Oakridge, Ariz.

SMASE board excludes parents

In a time when inclusion is the goal of every social movement, it would seem that taking steps to encourage and increase attendance and participation in school board meetings would be natural and automatic. Unfortunately, such is not the case with the St. Michaels Association for Special Education Inc., located in Window Rock.

SMASE Board meetings have never been publicized in local/regional newspapers and have never been announced on any radio station. SMASE parents, guardians and families are not notified of upcoming board meetings. Meeting dates and times have been changed at the last minute with no public notice. SMASE maintains a website and a Facebook page, but fails to utilize these tools for their benefit.

On the morning of Monday, Aug. 19, a notice for a board meeting was posted in the SMASE administration lobby. The notice had a board meeting scheduled for Aug. 19 at 4 p.m. When several family members showed up, we discovered the meeting had been postponed. The meeting is now scheduled for Thursday, Aug. 22, at 4 p.m. in the SMASE administration conference room. I encourage all SMASE parents, guardians and family members to attend the meeting.

I also encourage community members who are interested in learning more about SMASE, learning about opportunities to support and to advance SMASE’s mission. The SMASE Board of Directors will be meeting today, Aug. 22, at 4 p.m. in the SMASE administration conference room.

Kee Begay Jr.
St. Michaels, Ariz.

Delay changing energy policy

The Navajo Nation needs to delay any type of amendment to the Navajo Nation 2013 Energy Policy until after the 2020 presidential election. At this point, we do not know who the next president will be. Plus, each party has put themselves on opposite sides on the coal energy issue. One side says we should do away with coal energy and the other side says to keep it going. To make any decisions now would be premature and unwise.

The energy industry itself is still settling given all the changes. It will take a few more years before the dust settles. The Navajo Transitional Energy Company, LLC, has been working all along to position itself to be in the best position within the energy industry by the time the dust settles.

The current 2013 Energy Policy has the necessary components to allow them to do that. Renewable energy, scholarships and opportunities are also part of the policy. Our previous leadership had the foresight to be inclusive of all aspects of energy and energy-related products. We need to respect the document and allow the document to continue without any challenges.

Outside industries and companies are watching to see if this energy-rich tribal nation can handle its own resources. Or will Navajo leaders succumb to activists’ intentions of killing jobs and revenues for the Navajo Nation? Previous leadership opened the door for the best-paying jobs on the Navajo Nation to be created by becoming part of the energy industry to bring water to the state of Arizona and light up the rest of the western United States.

We had political power within the state of Arizona because we exercised our economic sovereignty, but we lost it when new leadership exercised theirs.

We need to learn from our mistakes and make the decision to keep jobs instead of killing them. Navajo leadership can do that by letting the 2013 Energy Policy do its job so that Navajo Transitional Energy Company and miners can do theirs. Cities and countries are doing what they can to protect and enhance what they have for the betterment of their citizens. We need to do the same. We cannot let outsiders decide what is best for us. Last time we did that, we lost more than our land.

Jarvis Williams
Kayenta, Ariz.

Bluff Road still a mess

Let this letter serve as continuing information about the Bluff Road (NR542) in Shiprock. I want to make known to readers that this road remains the roughest road in the history of Shiprock. There is a chapter leader in Shiprock who has declared his servitude when he became elected chapter president, but that has not transpired.

Consider this scenario: A political official who has a title in any capacity lets citizens in a community state his/her intention to serve the people. Before he or she is elected, promises are made of a platform to improve/change certain existing conditions. The voter gets convinced that this voice is believable and worthy of receiving his or her vote. Once in office, the items on the candidate’s list of promises go to the wayside and are forgotten.

Now when does the work get planned, implemented and completed? The political candidate reached his or her goal of getting elected, but the campaign promises do not even transpire. So where does that leave the constituents of that politician? Frustrated and disappointed. The official failed! Apply this scenario to the community of Shiprock, where chapter meetings have full agendas of numbered supposed projects that are announced.

The repetitious routine continues for seven long years with no noticeable projects completed. This applies to lack of repairs, no road maintenance and/or road construction on the Bluff Road in Shiprock. Would this happen anywhere else? When will any campaign promises come to fruition?

Wilford R. Joe
Shiprock, N.M.

Chivalry is alive and well

Recently, I happened to be visiting my wife’s hometown of Shiprock. We both are early risers so one morning not too long ago we decided to “open” the local McDonalds to take advantage of a senior java. As we drove up and parked, another vehicle parked right next to us.

A cheii quickly got out of his driver’s side and rushed over to the entrance while his wife kind of struggled out of her side. My wife was quick to remark, “Gee, he is not even waiting for his poor wife to get out of the car!” Yah de Lah!

As we watched, my wife’s eyes were firing off lightning bolts at the man. The lady finally got out of the car when I noticed the husband was still at the doorway. I said, “Well look at that, you spoke too soon.”

This said as the man held the door open for his slow-moving wife. Chivalry is alive and well on the Navajo Nation, after all (chivalry can be described as courteous behavior, especially that of a man towards a woman). Better yet, it is good to see that there are other chivalrous Navajo men. For a while there, I thought I was the only one, Ya’ah!

Dana Russell
Polacca, Ariz.


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