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Letters: Great challenges, great opportunities

We live in a time of both great challenges and great opportunities for our Diné people.

Challenges include the health of our people through the pandemic and the diminishing levels of current Diné speakers. This language challenge is amplified by the infiltration of Navajo society by external films, foreign video games, and non-Diné social media that is unchecked and seamlessly beamed across reservation borders and onto our children’s phones.

At the same time, we live in a time of tremendous and unprecedented opportunities. The same technology that is a threat to our language can be used to help increase health, as well as Diné K’ehjí.

Facebook/TikTok, etc., can be used to proliferate Navajo language videos and instruction, and like the Navajo Times has recently shown, we can print our news in Diné K’ehjí. We can also take back the names of our surroundings, places, and events and return them to our language, just as our chapters have done with Tółikan and Tsé Daa K’áán.

We have the potential to fund a Diné language renaissance with more fuel than ever before. The Navajo Nation is now sitting on more funding than our government has ever had.

While the issue of language instruction and retention should not fall completely on the Navajo government, now the government is best situated to make real game-changing and generational investments. I strongly urge those who can allocate funding to make game-changing investments in preserving, growing and strengthening Diné K’ehjí for current and future generations.

In addition to in-class language schooling, like I was fortunate to have at Rock Point Community School, we have outside-of-the-class models that we know can work such as film. The “Star Wars” and “Finding Nemo” films were magnificently done by the Navajo Nation Museum. And who can forget the coyote stories done by the San Juan School District in the 1970s?

My Tsé Nitsaa Deezáhí Elementary classmates and I loved the winter stories on microfilm as much as shi’áłchíní loved the same stories I can now share on my laptop in Wáashindoon.

We can easily invest in new dubbed films and new digital remakes of coyote stories (for the winter). How incredible would it be to apply current film-making technology using Diné directors to retell these and other stories?

If the San Juan School District stories are still great half a century later, a new generation of digital Navajo language films in the 2020s will surely be a worthwhile investment.

Additionally, we can invest in taking language software like the base-level Rosetta Stone course to the next level. I am sure there are a new generation of Diné thinkers, programmers, and developers that can further harness technology to strengthen our language for future generations. Please, let us find a way to invest in Diné K’ehjí in this unprecedented time.

Navajo storytelling stands the test of time — let’s leave some new stories for the next generation to update in the Navajo language 50 years from now. Ahéhee’.

Jackson Slim Brossy
Washington, D.C.
(Hometown: Tsaile/Wheatfields, Ariz.)

Navajo preference not reason for vacancies

It’s unfortunate misinformation is being spread out in the public regarding the reason for so many vacancies in the Navajo Nation prosecutor’s office.

The recent article in the Gallup Independent (Sept. 22, 2021) has quotes from two delegates claiming that the reason there are so many vacancies in that office, as well as other offices within the Navajo Nation government, is because Navajo has to comply with the Navajo Preference in Employment Act.

However, I surmise that is not true.

Anyone, Navajo or non-Navajo, can apply for a vacant position at the Navajo Nation. If there is a qualified Navajo and a non-Navajo applying for the same position, then Navajo preference would be applied to hire the Navajo.

However, if a qualified non-Navajo applies for a position and there are no Navajos that apply or no qualified Navajos, then the non-Navajo can be hired.

The delegates are making it sound like a Navajo has to be hired no matter what, but that is not always the case.

Yes, that would be nice to always have qualified Navajos applying and that is important, but if no Navajo applies or there are no qualified Navajos, then a qualified non-Navajo can be hired.

The delegates just need to look at their own chief legislative counsel to see that a non-Navajo can be hired and there are other non-Navajos working within the Navajo Nation. So why can’t vacant positions be filled?

One reason could be because of the low pay. I challenge anyone to compare the salaries of positions in the Navajo government to similar positions off the reservation and you will see a significant difference. So much so, that some positions aren’t even paying at the level a person working at McDonald’s makes.

If the delegates really want to get to the root of the problem, then they should begin there instead of going after Navajo preference.

Another possible reason for so many vacancies is because people just don’t want to work for the people running those offices. Look at the prosecutor’s office, the current attorney general terminated the previous chief prosecutor (who was Navajo) and has had acting chief prosecutors ever since.

She also wanted to change the Navajo membership requirement for the chief prosecutor. It’s clear that office is unstable and the attorney general does not support Navajo hires, so who would want to work at such a place.

Again, look to the root of the problem and don’t start eroding the nation’s laws.

It’s true the Navajo Nation has many vacancies that can’t seem to be filled and its been like that for years, but if the Council delegates really want to address the issue, then they need to consider all the possible reasons for it and not start attacking the one law that supports the Navajo people.

Susie M. Wauneka
Albuquerque, N.M.

Veterans looking out for veterans

If it wasn’t for the Veterans’ Protest Forum on Sept. 24 in Window Rock, our Navajo Nation president, Jonathan Nez, and vice president, Myron Lizer, wouldn’t have had a clue what troubled the veterans throughout Navajo Nation.

Many veterans spoke of their concerns regarding changes made to the veterans’ policies, request forms, bylaws, etc., without their knowledge and consent.

It was at a point where the veterans decided to put a stop to all this nonsense and re-elect new commanders for two agencies, Fort Defiance and Northern agencies, because they were not receiving the information of all the changes being made.

The veterans were left no choice but to protest and be heard by their leaders, which was the Navajo Nation Council delegates from all 110 chapters, and President Nez and Vice President Lizer.

After several early morning and late-night meetings with some of the Navajo Nation Council delegates, the speaker, president, and vice president, agreements were reached between the leaders and the veterans – so they thought.

When it came to swearing in the new two agency commanders, President Nez informed the veterans that only Fort Defiance commanders would be sworn in and not Northern Agency commanders.

It turns out that the former Northern Agency commanders and the secretary wrote a letter, or letters, to President Nez complaining that the election wasn’t done correctly and that they were not notified. Yet the announcement was on KNDN radio station for five days before the election happened.

Therefore, we will see what the Oct. 8, 2021, agency veterans’ meeting brings. The veterans’ agency meeting is scheduled for 10 a.m. at the Teecnospos Chapter House on Friday.

If you want your voice to be heard and that your vote matters, be there!

Elouise Brown
Commander
Northern Agency
Newcomb, N.M.

Veterans face red tape with financial assistance, housing

Yà’át’ééh shík’éí, shidine’é, hastoí, sáanii, tséłkéí dóó ch’ikéí. I write this letter in light of Navajo veteran issues and concerns brought forth by numerous veterans that are facing continued red tape with financial assistance and housing with the Navajo Nation Veterans Advisory Council, Navajo Nation Veterans Administration and President Jonathan Nez.

The lack of accountability and transparency has become apparent and has gone unchecked until now. On Friday, Sept. 24, the Fort Defiance Agency Veterans Organization held a special meeting in Tséhóotsooí to address the Navajo Veteran Trust Fund financial assistance policy that was drafted on Aug. 26 by the Navajo VA director and approved by Navajo Nation Veterans Advisory Council and President Nez.

These policies entailed additional documents that would have added more red tape to the Navajo veterans, surviving spouses and Gold Star Mothers that apply for these assistances.

The policy had applicants that applied for hardship and energy assistance provide: 1. Receipts will be required to request additional assistance; 2. Receipts must be dated within 30 days of the date the check was issued; 3. Purchasing of firewood, pellets and propane, store-front vendor would need to provide a quote before payment was issued and receipts would need to be turned in for reimbursement; 4. A roadside vendor would need to get an affidavit form at the Navajo VA office in Tsé Bonito, New Mexico, or provide a receipt; 5. For utility assistance, the statement must be in the applicant’s name, amount may be only for the amount of one month of utilities.

Assistance for veterans only would include medical appointments that would restrict veterans to only service-connected visits and they also have to submit receipts, an appointment letter that must be dated two days of the appointment before and after.

For education assistance, letter of acceptance, course enrollment statement and course schedule and receipts for all purchases must be provided.

As you’re reading this, you’re wondering, how is this even happening? Where is the Navajo Nation Council and where is the Navajo Nation president?

Well, it started with the Council’s Health, Education and Human Services Committee (oversight for Navajo veterans), which introduced Legislation (0375-19), sponsored by Delegate Paul Begay, that amends the financial assistance policy for the Navajo Nation Veterans Trust Fund by removing language in obtaining financial assistance for veterans.

As stated in a Jan. 8, 2020, president’s office press release, Navajo VA Director Zwierlein said, “his office will now be able to revise the procedures to better streamline the process and make it more flexible, efficient, and accessible…”

And we all know that was not the case. With this legislation, passed by HEHSC, gave the veteran’s director all the power and full authority over veteran financial policies.

In addition, this also included Navajo Nation Veterans Advisory Council bylaw changes that restricted members of the Council not to advocate for veterans, do not talk to Council delegates, or speak and/or advocate on legislation concerning veterans.

This also included giving voting power to the executive director and giving full authority to the Navajo Nation president to remove members that don’t toe the line and all members of this group “serve at the pleasure of the president”.

\As you can see, things are unbalanced and broken. It’s unbalanced in terms of one person is given too much power (veterans director/president) and one given no power (veteran). One given the right to speak on veterans’ issues and the other is told to be quiet.

It’s OK for the Navajo president told hold rallies and functions promoting his agenda, but it’s wrong for veterans to protest for issues they know are broken.

It’s OK for the president to praise the Navajo director and not OK if we, the veterans, disagree.

When did this become a dictatorship? And where did democracy go? Where did veterans’ rights go? Where are the laws passed by Navajo Nation Council go and who are adhering to those laws?

In closing, these are all facts written in black in white, on paper, directives through emails, and all truths. But it seems, lately, with the exception of Speaker Seth Damon and a few honorable delegates, who chooses to hold the system accountable, to account for every veteran’s dollar, and to speak for the Navajo veteran?

The system is unbalanced and broken. There is no traditional teachings by leaders, there is no compromise — only lawyers from the Navajo Department of Justice that serve at the pleasure of the Navajo president and not at the pleasure of the Navajo people.

I was once told by my late delegate, the honorable Steven Begay, that the rules of being a Natanii (leader) are simple, “You listen to the people and you listen some more. Don’t be afraid of your people.”

And I hope now the leaders are listening and hearing the veterans. The purpose of the Navajo Nation Council is to uphold the rights of the Navajo people … now uphold the rights of the Navajo veteran.

Olin Kieyoomia
Commander
Fort Defiance Agency Veteran Organization
Tohatchi, N.M.

A shame if all falls on deaf ears

Ya’at’eeh. You walk in a room, come to a new place, meet new people, or travel across the country. You use your senses, especially your observation and process of what you see.

And of course, the smell and hearing kicks in too, and maybe how you feel comes to light.

In lieu of last week’s meeting with the Navajo Nation speaker, staff, Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez, Vice President Myron Lizer, and chief of staff on concerns and issues pertaining to our Navajo warriors (veterans), we sat and talked about things brought forth by local veteran organizations and agency commanders about issues that had questions or concerns that needed to be addressed to leadership.

Listening to all who spoke, I hope we accomplished what some people say “the 4 Cs” — cooperation, coordination, communication, and consent. It sure be a shame if all that falls on deaf ears.

You all have probably read the Navajo Times by now (“Veterans rally against director, denials of help,” Sept. 30, 2021). The problem is fixable. We talk of unity, one voice, and one body, but unfortunately it isn’t so. Is that just the nature of us or did we learn that from the outside?

I’m asking leadership and veterans to come together to choose what’s best for us, now.

I’d like to thank Navajo Nation Council Speaker Honorable Seth Damon and his staff. You all be safe.

Tim Johnson
Commander, Central Navajo Veterans Organization
Commander, Hardrock Veterans Organization
Hardrock, Ariz.

Meeting on housing set for Oct. 9

This letter is to provide information to our Navajo communities on a continued effort to provide funding to assist Navajo families with housing assistance under the Naschitti District 14 Community Housing Commission.

After our meeting on July 8, 2019, with the Navajo Nation Council Resource and Development Committee, other Council delegates, and the Navajo Housing Authority, the RDC directed NHA to work with Naschitti District 14 Housing Commission to implement the planned housing assistance for families in need using the unrestricted funds.

This came about when NHA had turned down the 2018 Indian Housing Plan application as requested by NHA due to stating that the project was not on the Navajo Reservation, and the District 14 Council delegate who submitted the application asked for the actual reason for denial, but NHA would not respond.

After two reported NHA administrative meetings, subject to no action by the NHA administration, a meeting was set with the NHA Board on Oct. 26, 2019.

During the meeting, D14CHC informed the NHA Board of Commissioners what the next steps NHA must take. The D14CHC presented all the information as noted by the administration and requested a written response in 10 days to provide a direction.

According to the D14CHC strategic plan, the NHA Board of Commissioners would be subject to amendment approval of the 2020 Indian Housing Plan, without HUD approval as the funds would be from unrestricted funds by November 2019.

The NHA Board did not respond who were all from off the Navajo Reservation and did not understand the need for housing assistance, and the administration will not respond as well.

Since this time, a new chief executive officer was hired, but released again, and the current interim chief executive director as a housing development supervisor is not meeting the need for Navajo communities for many years as well.

As is well known, the COVID-19 crisis required the stay-at-home requirements. Unfortunately, many of our families ended up staying in dilapidated homes to survive. As result, despite the lack of assistance being provided, this is a continued effort to assist families.

With the last meeting in which D14CHC reported to RDC, because it was a report, no action was taken, but some members to the RDC recommended to have District 14 Council delegate sponsor a resolution before RDC for approval in the January 2020 meeting.

The District 14 Council delegate would not respond for request for assistance on the resolution by the president of the D14CHC. He was unfortunately lost to this pandemic crisis, as an elderly leader, he was doing a lot.

In efforts to continue the process of helping families in need, the D14CHC was able to secure assistance from Council Delegate Otto Tso, with his understanding on lack of proper use of Native American Housing Assistance and Self-Determination Act funding that is not being used to build homes in need.

With his efforts to assist, he volunteered to provide an update on the progress he is encountering in getting the resolution through the legal review and moving it forward to the RDC Committee on Oct. 9, 2021, at 9 a.m., in front of the Naschitti Christian Reform Church to the families seeking assistance.

With this letter and information, District 14 community members and other leadership are invited to come and get information on the housing assistance effort that has been taken since 2018.

This is a continued effort of D14CHC working with the Navajo Nation RDC as the oversight committee over the NHA since April 2019. The numerous efforts by the D14CHC to assist families remain unresolved by NHA.

Further, the 2021 Indian Housing Plan shows minimal funding for needed allocation and with plans to build seven public rental units and 12 homeownership units within the year and the 2020 NHA annual performance report shows only three homes built by Southwest Indian Foundation since 2018. With this effort by community members, the assistance under NAHASDA Self-Determination provision, the Council members can make changes to help communities.

Thank you for providing an opportunity to help the families in need within our residential area, and we sincerely hope for some results from this meeting on Oct. 9.

Chester Carl
Naschitti, N.M.

Broken promises, betraying veterans

President Nez signs FY 2022 comprehensive budget without line item vetoing the Veterans Trust Fund budget as he promised on Sept. 24 before a veterans’ protest assembly.

What else is new that has been the strategy of the current Veterans Administration executive director. Say one thing and do otherwise.

The veterans’ upmost concerns were:

The time frame it took to receive assistance checks from the time the application was submitted to the date the checks arrived.

The stagnation of homes being built for veterans. Homes were being built till the Begay/Nez administration put a halt to it.

The veterans never had any pressing issues with the trust fund policies, procedures, and legislations regarding them and the housing policies. These policies, procedures, and housing legislations were devised with the wisdom and knowledge of veterans and others. They were not formulated haphazardly.

The revisions and changes in the trust fund policies, procedures, and legislations were 95 percent done by the executive director with little or no input from the grassroots veterans of the local chapter veterans’ organizations. All these changes directly affect the grassroots veterans.

The executive director implies these changes were approved by the Veterans Advisory Council. There was hardly any feedback from the VAC to the local CVOs so they could dispense the information to the grassroots veterans for their input and concerns. The growing concern of the local CVOs was that the VAC was becoming a rubber stamp for the executive director.

Regarding the Fort Defiance Agency and the Northern Agency elected new commanders to address the situation much to the displeasure of the executive director and President Nez.

On Sept. 27, President Nez signed the Navajo Nation comprehensive budget, including the Veterans Trust Fund budget as submitted by the Veterans Administration Executive Director, James Zwierlein, despite the promise that he (President Nez) made in front of the veterans and several Council delegates.

President Nez says he had the blessings of the VAC—case in point of the rubber stamp label.

The Eastern, Fort Defiance, Chinle, and Northern agencies all submitted their resolutions opposing the Trust Fund budget proposed by the executive director. These tactics were some of the reasons for the protest by the veterans on Sept. 24, but by all indications it was disregarded by President Nez as he stands by the executive director.

Promises made and promises broken again to the veterans.

Calvin Charlie
Commander
Teecnospos Veterans Organization
Teecnospos, Ariz.


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