Thursday, June 1, 2023

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Letters | Hardship payments denied to those who have passed on

As the tribal government continues to work at getting Hardship funds to the Navajo people who have yet to apply, I must ask why they turned their back to those relations who have journeyed on to the spirit world.

These relatives who have made their journey did apply and were approved for said Hardship funds when they were still among us.

Has our Navajo government now considered the lives of these relations non-important?

It is sad that due to the fact the Navajo government feels they need more finances to line their own pockets. They must renege on their promise to finance the hardship of all Diné who took time to apply for Hardship Assistance.

The checks for our relatives who have journeyed on was granted and the funds were sent out, but then people were told the checks were deemed invalid and any attempt to cash them would be considered fraud. Even after the Window Rock office had them approved and printed. An action which shows disrespect to our loved ones and our government failing to acknowledge they ever existed.

The majority of our Navajo people do not suffice the need to carry life insurance, thus leaving no financial aid to the loved ones left behind. Many of these were loving family members while still here and did support their loved ones to the best of their ability, but because of some belief of not talking about death, many feel no need that they should invest in insurance for their lives.

Some may have met hardship earlier in their lives and though they may have wanted to invest in life insurance, they just couldn’t afford it due to meeting the needs of welfare of their loved ones. Whatever their reason for not making final arrangements, is not a reason for our government to also turn their back on these relations who were approved for Hardship funding to assist in the well-being of their loved ones.

Now, these same individuals, who fail to acknowledge the lives of our loved ones who have journeyed on, come before the Diné voters to allow them back in office?

We should never forget our own no matter what the lives they lived. There is a lesson from all lives and all the good they left for us here must be respected. The Hardship funds they applied for should be left to those loved ones left behind to help ease the hardship felt by the untimely journey made by those who have impacted the lives of so many.

Allow these loved ones this small token to leave behind for the loved ones who now go through the grieving process on their trek to continuing their journey through this life.

The first round of funding did go to all Navajo who applied, but for whatever reason, this round of assistance was halted to our loved ones who for varying reasons were called home. I ask that the Hardship funds applied for by our loved ones be reinstated and left to the loved ones left behind to aid them in the hardship of the loss of their loved ones and the financial burden they must now face.

The Indigenous of these lands have a saying of the treatment from the federal government. Must we now utilize that saying from our own government?

We must once again know that the government often times “speaks with forked tongues.” Our Navajo government must relearn the teachings of love and care of all relations.

Norman Joe
Shiprock, N.M.

BLM should protect Chaco for our health

This month, the respected medical journal “The Lancet” published a study that found pollution is blamed for 9 million premature deaths per year.

Sadly, the Navajo people and other tribes in this country do not need such research to tell us that our people suffer health consequences, including death, due to air and water pollution.

This is something I have experienced firsthand with my family. Like so many other Navajo men, my cheii worked in the uranium mines and would come home to his family with his clothes caked in toxic dust and residue from the mines.

My mother used to tell me stories about how she and other Navajo children would play in the tailing pond and entrances to the mines when they would go visit their fathers, uncles and grandfathers at work.

Due to the denial of safe, sustainable jobs, my cheii took the job he could get, never informed by the mining companies or the U.S. government about the immediate and long-term health consequences of uranium exposure.

Unfortunately, my cheii died one month after I was born of severe complications related to his exposure to uranium. But his spirit and memory live on in my heart and with my family who knew him.

Four generations of my family have endured the repercussions of resource extraction on Navajo lands. And not much has changed today.

Our lands are littered with abandoned mines and crawling with new oil and gas development. We breathe the dirty air and drink the tainted water while our natural resources are exploited for profits over people.

That is why I am speaking out today in support of banning oil and gas leasing in the greater Chaco Canyon area, the ancestral homeland of the Navajo people.

In addition to protecting our health and that of future generations, this area holds thousands of artifacts and archaeological sites. Tribes throughout the Four Corners area, including the Pueblos, are the direct descendants of the Chacoan people and consider the region their traditional homelands.

Due to its rich archaeological history and culture, it is recognized as one of the United States’ 22 UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

But for those of us whose ancestors walked these lands and whose spirits still call this home, the greater Chaco region is not a heritage site. Rather, it is a living, breathing connection between where we came from and where we are today.

That is why I was hopeful to hear that the Bureau of Land Management is considering ending oil-and-gas leasing for lands surrounding Chaco Canyon. The 351,400 acres – or 10-mile buffer as it is commonly known – would protect these sacred lands to the Navajo, Pueblo, and other tribes.

But it, like so many of our Indigenous lands, has been in the crosshairs of energy development. More than 90% of public lands within the area are already leased for oil-and-gas drilling, and we see the impacts of that in the health of our people and our environment.

And still, greater Chaco is at risk of being destroyed by drill pads, pipelines and a web of industrial access roads.

That is why several tribes, including the Navajo and Pueblo, worked with our elected officials and the Biden administration to achieve the 10-mile buffer. The buffer would not impact the valid existing rights of the state, tribes, allotment holders, or private landowners and interests.

If Chaco is further developed, the Navajo people and other tribal communities will be the ones who will shoulder the burden of increased air pollution, truck traffic, and industrialized development.

But we are standing up now for future generations, so pollution does not run through the veins of our children and grandchildren.

As I think about my cheii, my children, and future generations, I add my voice strongly to those calling on the BLM to protect Chaco. We urge you to listen to us, and create the 10-mile buffer. Our health depends on it.

Charnelle Sherman
Kayenta, Ariz.

US Supreme Court may target ICWA next

I am writing this as a call of action for anyone who cares about indigenous children and our future generations.

The Indian Child Welfare Act was passed in November 1978 by Congress to address a high number of American Indian children who came into state or county Child Protective Services care.

Locally, I have heard many stories of a BIA social worker who removed Apache children from their homes without a paper trail documenting why. She placed many Apache children off reservation to be adopted by non-Native families.

The U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in their fall 2022 term in a case known as Brackeen v. Haaland. The case stems from a Texas family (Brackeens’) who adopted a child eligible for enrollment with the Navajo and Cherokee tribes.

The Brackeens argue, along with the Goldwater Institute and the attorney generals of Texas, Louisiana and Indiana, that the ICWA discriminate against them due to ICWA’s placement preferences. Furthermore, the Brackeens argue that they are able to provide financially for the child because they are gainfully employed.

I believe the placement preferences in the ICWA are the heart of the whole law. The placement preferences specify exactly who should be considered for placement of child(ren): Immediate family; tribal members from the child’s tribe; tribal members of other indigenous tribes; and non-Native persons.

One has to ask how can the Brackeens say they are being discriminated against when they were allowed to adopt the indigenous child in question back in 2018?

Also, a family’s financial situation is just one of many factors an ICWA case worker considers when a child goes up for guardianship or adoption. It is not the main consideration.

The recent leak of the draft decision to the overturn Roe v. Wade should be a red flashing light for all indigenous nations. The Supreme Court is willing to overturn decades old precedents.

Therefore, I urge anyone who cares about the welfare of our indigenous children to write letters, call or email your state and federal elected officials to preserve and protect the ICWA by filing briefs with the U.S. Supreme Court supporting ICWA.

I have written state and federal elected officials asking them to file briefs with the Supreme Court before the Aug. 12, 2022, deadline.

Senators Kelly and Sinema and Rep. Tom O’Halleran are able to file members-of-Congress briefs with the Supreme Court. I have called and emailed their respective offices urging for them to file briefs.

Furthermore, I have asked other ICWA case workers in Arizona to do the same. I believe if many tribal members from different indigenous nations speak to their elected officials that we will be heard.

As ICWA case workers, we must always look out for the best interest of our children. Unfortunately, I do not believe the Goldwater Institute, Brackeens, or others who want to demolish the ICWA care about the best interest of Indigenous children. They only want to do as much damage as possible to the ICWA and Indigenous nations in the country.

I do believe should the ICWA be ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court, tribes will end up back in October 1978 in the pre-ICWA world. I believe we must all step up to defend it at all costs just as our ancestors defended our peoples and the lands we live on today.

Aaron Begay
San Carlos, Ariz.

Voters should not re-elect self-serving leaders

So tiresome are the blowing winds – scorching and relentless. Just as pigheaded and stubborn is the standstill between some members of Navajo Nation Council and President Jonathan Nez.

Not only is this standoff despicable, it’s inhumane. At stake are the communities that can find relief from these Covid relief funds which these leaders are holding hostage.

Try driving through the reservation heartland like Kitsillie, Tachee/Blue Gap south, Cottonwood, Forest Lake where livelihoods are based on raising sheep and cattle.

The drought, soaring gas prices and the amount of driving to get gas or groceries are utterly taxing. As rural animal-farming communities, we always had it tough but this summer is doubly cruel.

Is there a third party that can step in to get President Nez and the delegates to shuffle to a table to negotiate? Where is the Navajo Nation Supreme Court?

Right now, neither President Nez nor the feuding Council delegates will budge on their own. We are witnessing the worst masochism at play here. It is shameful these guys make decisions with their egos and not reason – how unfortunate for us voters.

Let this be a lesson to us voters as these prideful elected officials are running for re-election. Their re-elections cannot and must not happen. These guys, yes, including President Nez, have destroyed public trust in myriad ways.

Mind you, they are refusing to work out a solution at time when we are barely going forward after losing family members, neighbors and friends to the pandemic.

Before I get to main point, I must applaud the handful of leaders who did step up to help the citizens of the reservation. Their efforts and assistance will be long remembered and they are worthy of our respect and may they be re-elected.

Clearly, the other public officials have learned from Donald Trump, so we should not wait for them to come to their senses and restore respect. It will not happen. It is up to us voters to put an end to this. You have heard that radio ad to stop DWI in New Mexico? That message applies here, too – “Enough is enough.”

As voters, it’s critical to not re-elect these self-serving leaders. What more do we need to see? We have witnessed unstoppable greed and inflated egos many times over since they took office.

Even if we vote in a new Navajo president, these disgruntled delegates will continue their game to offend a new administration. Shouldn’t we learn from national politics?

Senate Republicans have held democratic legislations hostage since the 2020 election. Nothing is getting done in Congress, too. That’s a huge lesson to apply here. Let us not re-elect these marauding leaders within Navajo country.

Your heart would be sick and dispirited, too, if you had to drive through these rural chapter communities. There are no jobs whatsoever in these communities and families raise livestock to get by, but this year is especially difficult.

Chapter communities in these far-flung places, listed above, deserve bigger monetary allotment than communities that neighbor border towns. For instance, it takes 20 minutes to drive to Gallup from Fort Defiance but from Tachee, it’s three hours one way!

We are forgotten sheepherders until a public official wants to impress the national media by stating he hauls water and raises sheep. Stop masquerading as “us” unless you truly have some understanding of how tough farming and raising animals is out here.

Lastly, in campaign stump speeches, public officials swear how vital our traditions are. Presumably, they mean “living off the land,” but these very communities that are forced to ek out a living through farming because there are no jobs, are eventually pushed aside.

You, out there, the voters, you can support traditional culture by voting for new candidates.

Ele Vena Burbank aka Eve Little
Tachee/Blue Gap Chapter

A town hall to hear from coal-impacted communities

I wanted to share my comments to the Arizona Corporation Commission as they scheduled several town halls across the Navajo Nation to gain a better sense of the Kayenta Mine and Navajo Generating Station closures in 2019.

One of the responsibilities for the ACC is oversight of Arizona utilities like Arizona Public Service and Salt River Project. Below are my comments.

I am honored to have the Arizona Corporation Commissioners here in the town of Kayenta. I am glad that we have an opportunity to address our concerns.

I have recently returned to Kayenta. I was living and working in Gillette, Wyoming for the last two and a half years. Now, I have work closer to home but it didn’t have to be that way.

I was there because the Kayenta Mine had closed. I found work there in the heart of coal country, the Powder River Basin. I learned that there is a power plant in Arizona that purchases coal from the Powder River Basin.

Myself and many other skilled miners did just what I did. We found work outside our communities. Some took their families, others left home and found work elsewhere then sent the money home with limited visits.

We had mentioned to Navajo Nation President Nez that this type of hardship would happen and we carried that same message to the Arizona Legislature with no success in keeping the power plant doors open. The leadership from Arizona and Navajo Nation allowed the power plant owners to close its doors.

Now, the community is smaller. There are less people. There is lost income, lost tax revenue and still no assistance from President Nez.

A few weeks ago, we had several shootings in the town and two people lost their lives. I believe it was drug related.

The direction of the town of Kayenta is following the footsteps of similar communities across the country that have been impacted by the closure of mines or power plants. There is increased violence, increased drug activity in our community with a police department that lacks the resources to protect the community. We are not a safe community.

In my opinion, the state of Arizona betrayed our Navajo community by breaking a deal that was intended to bring prosperity to the Navajo Nation and to the state.

From my perspective, I think that our coal mine and power plant were sacrificed for other Arizona communities that were predominantly non-Navajo. We closed and they didn’t.

I wish the Navajo Nation had leaders that were willing to stand up and fight for jobs and revenue for the communities they represent but unfortunately that was not the case.

Since then, several elected officials that voted to support closure now regret their decision to close the mine and power plant. They cite that they did not have all the information, which is untrue. In my eyes, the decision to keep the jobs and revenue is simple.

Regardless, it is our community that has made the sacrifice for the state of Arizona so you all can return to your constituents and tell them that Arizona has a smaller carbon footprint and that you have met their election promises that you will protect Arizona jobs and Arizona economies.

I remain upset. It’ll be years before the feeling subsides.

In the future, given the unrestricted growth of the Valley, the state of Arizona will need more energy and water. I hope leadership at that time will always have the thought about the impact of the closure of the Kayenta Mine and Navajo Generating Station.

They will think, “We had a plentiful energy source that brought low-cost, reliable power to our residents yet we made the decision to close it. Now we have unreliable, higher cost energy. We have to wait for rain, the wind to blow or the sun to shine.”

In closing, I want to implore that if you have a say in how much is allocated for impacted communities from the closure of Kayenta Mine and Navajo Generating Station, I would ask that you ensure that at least 40% of the allocation is sent directly to this Kayenta community. The other 40% would be sent to the Lechee community and 10% to the city of Page. The remaining 10% would be sent to the Navajo Nation government.

Again, I appreciate the opportunity to address the commission regarding this important issue. I wish you all the best. Safe travels back home.

Jarvis Williams
Kayenta, Ariz.


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