Letters: Navajo needs a constitution
I would like to address the recent legislation passed by the council to withhold elections until June 2015. I am astounded by the inconsistencies our government is waging, all three branches. We truly do have a three-headed monster that needs to eliminated immediately… chopped off, erased, destroyed, and start all over with a constitution. Yes, a Navajo (Diné) constitution.
If we continue the way we are, we won’t have to worry about the U.S. government. Daniel Snyder and his Redskins name, multi-national mineral corporations or the dominant society to get rid of us…we will end up doing it ourselves. Our current situation dictates that very well. We have a lame duck president who is eager to decide on what to do with the $550-plus million that we received and try to make a positive statement as he is leaving.
On the other side, we have a council that is riddle with back peddling in tribal code (policy) and Navajo Fundamental Law while trying to appease a minority of disgruntled voters who claim their votes weren’t counted because their candidate was disqualified for lying on his job application. On the other side we have our chief justice and justices who seemed to pick and choose which issue they will apply Navajo Code (policy) and which they apply Navajo Fundamental Law as we saw with the Joe Shirley two-term issue, Deschene circus of events, and the Begay fiasco.
What I do like is the Deschene supporters wanting to make a difference and getting involved, but I have yet to hear how important language is to them and our sovereignty. This should be a wake-up call to them and our nation that they need to invest in learning Diné bi zhaad so it does not die out. Linguist and scholars predict a language dies, vanishes, and ends every 10 years with its last fluent speaker. Yes, fluent, a word that most love to hate nowadays. I would hate to see that happen to us with our young people and those of us who have moved off the rez to make a better life for ourselves. I’m not against education, nor advancing your career.
On the contrary, I speak three languages (Diné, English and Spanish) and yes, I am fluent enough to express myself and understand what is being said very well. I also have a bachelor’s degree, which I worked for very hard. I have encouraged my kids to learn English and excel in the white man’s world as much as possible, but to never forget where they come from within the four scared mountains. With all my travels outside the rez for education and jobs, I failed my kids in teaching them Diné, but we have made a resolution this year to learn and for me to teach them.
I also like the fact that the council has finally seen the light and decided to exercise our sovereignty and elect to have a “Do Over” and hopefully no one lies again on their application. We can do that because we are a sovereign nation, state, government… separate from the U.S. I hope those demonstrators in Window Rock understand that and start waving the Navajo Nation flag and not the U.S. flag nor entertain the notion that we should go back under the BIA (aka U.S. government). We are not wards of the U.S. government!
We are Diné, we are sovereign and this our land, our government, our elections and yes, our language. And we have a piece of paper that tells us we are. So the resolution for 2015 new government, new constitution and learn Diné Bi zhaad or teach if you already know it.
Rio Rancho, N.M.
Nation cannot choose leader for people by dictatorship
Let us harvest the knowledge gained from the inquiries that brought out a path of corruption of some of our people to the surface for initiating practical solutions for everyone, not just the people on the take from the “green river” of embezzlement and money favors to a few.
It is time for everyone to turn from adversary and conflict in order to move on and correct the root causes that perpetuate all of the Navajo Nations out-of-balance conditions in confusion and chaos. Most people do not know that the Navajo Nation government has never been approved by the people and therefore not organized to meet the needs of the people. Yet, we all know that the Navajo Nation government was set up to fail because its only purpose was to function as a contracting mechanism to sign oil and gas leases, which is still its purpose today.
There are issues that can be clarified to facilitate a healing journey for a productive dialogue among the Diné. For example, note that the elections office could have administratively included a write-in candidate on the ballot because this issue is not a court issue, yet court action was initiated arbitrarily when the 10-day filing requirement to the Office of Hearings and Appeals was not upheld. Furthermore, there is no election law that prevents Chris Deschene from being elected president by a referendum, which is the law making system of the Navajo voters. It is the people’s right to choose their leader and the Navajo Nation government cannot choose for the people by dictatorship.
Another issue is the situation of urban Navajos and the American Indian Embassy in Albuquerque, which I am the president and founder of, respectfully requests the next president to establish an Office of Navajo Urban Creative Solutions Office, under the Office of the President until it becomes a department of its own. There are 30,000 Navajos in Albuquerque alone. Currently 75 percent of the Indians in the U.S. are living away from their reservations and there are now more white people living on reservations than Indians. There is no tribal acknowledgement of this exodus of Indians from reservations. Even the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) does not address the urban Indian situation and problems.
This issue stems from the years of “brain drain” of Navajo professionals who are forced off the reservation to urban cities. Thus, it makes sense to engage these professionals in initiating a Creative Solutions Office within the president’s office.
Tribal lawyers, outside attorneys and professional staff and consultants are paid to manipulate the Diné to keep the Navajo Nation government dysfunctional for their own benefit. The new generation of authentic leaders have authority from their authenticity to design and implement co-creative leadership to benefit the Diné collectively.
The Navajo language usage is only on the Navajo Reservation and is unrelated to the economic world, and we have been long stripped of political autonomy by Washindoon. Language always has been our greatest strength and renowned the world over because of our veteran Navajo Code Talkers of World War II until a certain qualification of a presidential candidacy brought this to our conscious as a political issueóthe significance of questioning our ancestral language. Sadly, this may be a sign the largest Indian tribe in America is losing control of its language centuries in the making, and if we allow itóshame on us.
We hear “Prosperity is why languages die,” and believe it coming at us every day, young and old. Further, studies claim as economies develop, one language often comes to dominate a nation’s political and economic systems. People are forced to adopt a dominate language or risk being left outóeconomically and politicallyóthe direct result of an ongoing chain reaction started by histories of colonialism, nationalism and capitalism.
A dominant culture moves in with guns, germs, steel, and radically destabilizes indigenous life. It began with the eastern American Indian tribes who were in closest contact with the dominant culture began changing lifestyle first, such as inequality and the pressure to find good paying jobs and finally living in urban society. All along language became less and less useful even where it seems strongest like we thought on the Navajo Reservation where whole vocabularies and grammar will drop off and soon entire spheres of language use (hunting, ritual, education, songs) will disappear and those associated ways of life will also be forgotten.
These types of studies have a tendency to equate diversity and poverty. They claim that assimilation brings prosperity. We also know it invites a dangerous stereotype that gets the wrong end of the stick when economics and linguistics overlap starting with Blood Quantum Law (Indian blood laws) already defined for us under British Colonial period (1705)ócultural genocide in a nutshell.
“Oh, how true,” you say, “the pressure to adopt a dominant language is indisputable!”
But there is also the other side and we can make this story happen. What if I told you I have personally experienced a high correlation between high GDP and language preservation?
This happened while working in two different surface coal mining on the Navajo Reservation. Both operations had a workforce of 95 percent Navajos, 90 percent bilinguals who chose to speak Navajo among themselves. When asked to “put the hammer down,” they out produced top coal miners in the U.S. safely. And soon, China will take over as an economic superpower surpassing U.S. Then we all speak Chinese? And what language dominates in the Navajo Nation Tribal Council Chambers?
So does India to run their government. The truth is that economic and political success, achieved on local terms, is a powerful force for reviving a language and preserves diverse linguistic heritage. Yeah, Navajo language is vulnerable but endured a crucial blow during the mandatory boarding school days.
There is a revitalization of language movement to get official recognition in different nation-states across the world. We, the Navajo Nation, could be a case in the making: economic growth does not cause language loss. Prosperity achieved on local terms can promote our language. The clearest demonstration of recovering threatened languages in communities is being achieved by sufficient self-governance and prosperity by other Native groups such as the Hawaiians. The Alaskan Natives are well on their way. With the help of world-renowned linguists, the Mayans can read their lost language from 400 years ago.
The best-known examples of language movements are built on a basic level of economic self-sufficiency. We have relative economic success with our mineral resources but have problems with self-government and I think our language can help us work it out. We should be a case in the making, getting official recognition by the state of Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, or the United States for that matter in honor of our Navajo Code Talkers. If a language buckles when its speakers suffer, like a certain candid did, he can rebound and recover.
Reviving a language is a formidable challenge, yet through extraordinary willpower, allowing and maintaining diversity must become a conscious responsibility, a set of decisions requiring resources and a solid foundation of local self-governance in every case. Our stressed out local chapters can legitimize a recovery move in-sync with political and economic gains. Funds and votes can lead to textbooks, dictionaries, primary schools, and television stations in the Navajo language. Let’s not bicker and fight over our language. The world is watching. A different and positive opportunity presents itself here.
I am most proud of being bilingual fluently in Navajo and English.
Delegates behaving like U.S. ‘Indian agents’
This week I listened to Robert A. Williams Jr., who was interviewed by Bill Moyers of Moyers and Company. Williams Jr. of Lumbee heritage is a professor of Indian law at the University of Arizona.
One of the main points he made about Native American history and current relation with the United States is that it has always been about “dispossession.” The professor referenced the San Carlos Apache who have struggled to keep their land “sacred,” which is part of their identity. But for the United States government, Native Americans are still perceived as “savages” who need to be stripped of their culture and language and assimilated into American mainstream. The U.S. government knows what is best for Native America. And in that vein, copper mine profit is more important than sacred sites of the “savages.”
I was reminded of the Navajo Nation buying the BHP Navajo Mine at the 11th hour at this time last year. We were warned by sale opponents of liabilities with mine ownership. These liabilities are becoming more apparent. Recently one of the shareholders informed us of problems with coal ash contamination for which Navajo is now responsible.
At this time we have another 11th hour agenda on the Navajo Nation Council floor. Our elected leaders are insisting it is not necessary to speak Diné bizaad to guide and lead our people. As speakers of Diné bizaad we know our language interprets our culture and pathways, which guide and discern decisions we make every day. In reality we learned the language (English) of the enemy to survive in America.
What is hypocritical about current Navajo Nation legislation on language fluency is the Navajo Nation Council delegates are behaving like “Indian Agents” assisting the U.S. government with the “dispossession” plan. They decided to change the legislation from voters deciding on the language to Navajo Council deciding for us, just like the U.S. government. Yet, they were outraged at having been betrayed by Arizona Democrat Ann Kirkpatrick who supported the copper mine sale to Rio Tinto, an Australian-English mining firm. And Council Delegate Leonard Tsosie is ignoring the plight of Eastern Navajo on fracking by big oil.
Stop going back to Fort Sumner
When is the last time we, the people, as a common majority, hailed the decisions and actions of our leadership?
Every legal or legislative maneuver by candidates, former candidates; the rulings and decisions coming from elected or appointed leaders is examined and debated. People enter into these debates with their opinions a foregone conclusion. There is no changing of minds, no compromise. Only argument and thinly veiled insults directed towards the subjects of controversy. We, the people, have begun to follow the behavior of our elected leaders. A very scary position for us to be in, when the majority of us appear to disagree with their actions and decisions.
There was an article in the Navajo Times about the 150 year anniversary of the release of Diné from Hwééldi which ever so barely touches on the reason why our leadership is a disappointment. In fact, it gives the subject only one sentence: “When they came back from Fort Sumner, our leaders at the time told us never to go back to that place….”
Why not make known the reason why our ancestors did not want us to go back? Is it because talk of ceremonies is better left to novelists and tour guides? Is it because to talk of them is to hold yourself out for ridicule by non-believers? Is it because as an elected leader, it is somehow beneath you to consult a medicine man? Is it because we have educated ourselves out of being Diné, with a life philosophy based on harmony, and the restoration of harmony?
I’m sure there are people reading this who know what Á’chą́ą́ hod’zo is, and there are those who know that it was done by those imprisoned just before their release from Hwééldi. Are there any of us left who believe that the prayers and obligations made within that ceremony are at work today? Have we become so assimilated into the ways and culture of European society that we are so ready to discount our ceremonies and the prayers of our ancestors? Have we, as an entire people, moved that far away from who we were a mere 150 years ago?
We see videos of our children on the Internet singing that we are here today because of the prayers of our elders and ancestors, and we say “Áo! Nizhoni! Á’anii ákoté!” But we are unwilling, or not knowledgeable enough to believe in those ceremonies in which our elders and ancestors uttered those prayers and made those obligations. We ignore them, or discount them outright, as we organize “memorial events” to their place of suffering, a place to which they promised the deities we would never return if only…if only…they could be blessed with continued freedom and to flourish as a people. They made an obligation, we broke it, and our leadership has become without obligation, without direction. That’s the bottom line to the cause of our current state of affairs.
It would be ideal to have leaders who have the qualities we desire them to have, and I’m sure there are those who do. But at this time, we do not need a leader with infallible integrity who will deliver us into an economic utopia. We need a leader who will revisit the customs and ceremonies of restoring harmony before he even begins to present his or her ideas for consideration…and we, the people, need to start honoring the obligations our ancestors committed to. Stop going back to Fort Sumner.