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Letters: NHA board responds to criticism

The following is the Navajo Housing Authority Board of Commissioners’ response and comments to a recent letter to the editor entitled “What is going on at the NHA” (May 16, 2019) provided by former members of the NHA Board of Commissioners, who have their own motivations for their inquiry and opinions, that provides inaccurate information and calls for the Navajo Nation to take action based on that inaccurate and misguided information.

With its obligations of confidentiality in mind, which remains the paramount concern to the board, the current NHA Board of Commissioners responds as follows:

Allegations surrounding the performance of the current Board of Commissioners:

1. At the outset of the current board members’ appointment, two audits were conducted: An audit commissioned by the Nation’s executive branch; and an audit the board independently commissioned following our appointment.

2. The purpose of these audits were to identify and understand the current issues and findings arising from past NHA activities and transactions carried out by previous NHA management personnel and NHA boards to assist us, as new commissioners, in preparing and carrying out a corrective action plan for addressing each audit finding. The two audits currently are being reviewed by NHA and a corrective action plan is being prepared by NHA.

3. Those audits, as well as the board’s corrective action plan, will be reviewed by NHA with the president’s office, the speaker of the nation’s Council, NHA’s oversight committee – Resources and Development – and the Nation’s Department of Justice.

4. Notably, the results of those audits will demonstrate that the issues facing the NHA pre-date this boards’ appointment and involve findings related to housing activities and transactions done by previous NHA management and boards. These audits will illustrate why the nation’s Council amended NHA’s plan of operation/charter to require the appointment of professionals to the board and why a nominations committee composed of the Nation’s president, Council speaker and the RDC first selected and the Council’s Naabik’íyáti’ Committee confirmed the appointment of the board‘s current members and to take on the task of addressing and correcting the audit findings pursuant to a corrective plan of action by NHA.

5. To address other inaccurate statements, since the current board was appointed, NHA has built 224 new homes, modernized 532 units, rehabilitated and repaired another 604 boarded-up homes that have been returned to NHA’s current inventory of homes providing housing to eligible program participants, and we anticipate building at least 325 new homes within the next three years. Moreover, the current board has created job opportunities by employing many Navajo construction trade workers since 2018, and closing out past obligations to HUD in connection with defaulted sub-recipient constructed projects built years prior, such as the Tolani Lake and Bird Springs’ housing projects, to name a few.

Allegations surrounding whistleblowers and alleged employment lawsuits:

1. These allegations are one in the same and set forth to make it look like there are more issues than there are.

2. Regardless, the board has no role in personnel matters, other than those involving the CEO.

3. The board has been presented with a demand to resolve an employment action, which it takes seriously and will consider, by two former NHA employees. However, the board will not and cannot succumb to public and political pressure to make rash decisions and settle a potential lawsuit where the NHA has a strong legal position. Doing so would lead to many more claims, which not only harms the NHA, but also the nation and individual tribal members.

4. Should these claims result in filings with the Nation’s Office of Navajo Labor Relations, those matters will proceed pursuant to a formal hearing process through that agency where the claims will be rightfully heard and adjudicated — not in the public eye.

Allegations that the CEO was investigated and then resigned:

1. The board appreciates the concerns raised over Craig Dougall’s departure from the NHA. However, personnel matters are and remain strictly confidential for a variety of reasons, which include avoiding potential liability for the NHA and respecting Mr. Dougall’s privacy, among other reasons.

2. The board is working with the appropriate departments of the Navajo Nation to review the circumstances related to Mr. Dougall’s departure from NHA to ensure it was handled appropriately.

Stipend payments to board members:

1. As a prefatory matter, the board-approved stipends were not paid monthly, they were to be paid on a quarterly basis.

2. After further and extensive review and discussions by the board, the board reconsidered the quarterly stipends and on May 18, 2019, rescinded and suspended the board’s directive that implemented the stipend payments, eliminated the payment of the quarterly stipends and returned to the NHA board member stipend payment practices that were in effect prior to the adoption of the stipend directive in November 2018. We also have directed our legal counsel to work with the Nation’s Department of Justice to review and determine the appropriateness of stipend payments moving forward and reasonable compensation for time spent by commissioners in carrying out their legal oversight responsibilities and fiduciary duties as NHA commissioners outside of monthly board meetings.

In addition, we will request additional input from the OPVP, our oversight committee, and the RDC to more fully vet and address the board stipend payments.

The board is hopeful that this information resolves some of the confusion surrounding the issues raised by our predecessors. The board members strive to maintain a level of transparency with those with whom it serves, to the extent possible given the confidential nature of some of the matters that come before the board.

Kris Beecher
Chairman Board of Commissioners
Navajo Housing Authority
Window Rock, Ariz.

Thank you for searching for my father

At the end of December, my father, Lee C. Bitsui, a Purple Heart veteran, went missing while herding sheep amidst an impending snowstorm. There was so much stacked against us: steep terrain, relentless snowstorms and frigid cold temperatures. Each day more and more people arrived to help search, cook, clean, serve food and give words of encouragement.

We also received a tremendous amount of support on social media. Searchers came from all areas, on their own dime, willing to endure the harsh elements. I was so deeply touched by the outpour of support from the community and distances afar. With the effortless support of Steamboat Chapter House, Navajo Nation Department of Emergency Management established a command center at the chapter house. People searched in their own vehicle, by horse, by foot and on ATV in the worst of weather conditions. A helicopter and drones flew throughout Steamboat Canyon, searching by air. It truly was a remarkable organized effort.

With the guidance of a medicine man, dad was ultimately found by Search Team 7, which consisted of an active military Marine, my little brother, and dad’s 82nd Airborne veteran son in-law. Dad would have had it no other way, to be found by proud veterans and his son.

Thereafter, somewhere between the cloudy haze of relief, exhaustion and grief, my siblings and I were handed a sheet of paper listing all the organizations that helped to look for dad.

It has taken me months to come to terms with dad’s passing, although late, I want to formally extend a sincere hand of appreciation to the following organizations/individuals: Navajo Nation Department of Emergency Management, Navajo Nation Rangers, Navajo Nation Fish and Wildlife, Navajo County, Apache County Sheriff’s Office, CERT Team of Pinon, Arizona, CERT Team of Red Valley, Arizona, Southern Apache Sheriff’s Posse, Northern Apache Sheriff’s Posse, Ganado Fire Department, Apache County District II, Risk Management of Apache County, Steamboat Chapter House, Steamboat veterans, Jeddito Chapter House, Fort Defiance Chapter House, Fort Defiance veterans, Alton Joe Shepherd, State Rep. Myron Tsosie, Sheriff Dedman, Harland Cleveland, Alfred John, Glenda Wheeler, Steamboat community, Ganado community, veterans, horses and people from all across the states that came out to help search for my dad.

It was remarkable to witness the community coming together, emphasizing the importance of k’e. Ahe’hee ni’tsaa’go.

Cheryl “Ishi” Biitsui
Ganado, Ariz.

Treat elders with respect, love In Native American tradition, elders should be treated with respect.

Unfortunately, 1 in 10 Americans older than 60-plus have experienced some form of elder abuse.

It is especially sad to see elder abuse in Native communities because it goes against our tradition. The abusers are mostly family members. About 60 percent of elder abuse incidents are caused by family members. Elders who have been abused have a 300 percent higher risk of death. I have seen elder abuse for myself. It’s the most heartbreaking thing. We should treat elders with respect and love. Melanie Vigil Sophomore Crownpoint High School Crownpoint, N.M. Thoughts of racism Racism is such a powerful word. Racism could affect a person’s thoughts and feelings.

For instance, me. I experience racism with my family. We love shopping like any other family. One time while shopping, a family of Latin Americans looked at us and said, “Look at those Indians.” Then my family felt offended because “Indians” isn’t a correct term to categorize a person and the culture. We have our own religion and belief of who we are and how we look. And being called an Indian or people thinking we always wear war paint isn’t an accurate way to represent my people.

Racism could crush someone’s thoughts of one’s self for loving their religion. This could change the person’s mentality of their own culture.

Words can also change into action — emotional or physical. For example, if you call someone ugly that could make them feel very insecure. Always remember to treat others the way you want to be treated. Or in other words: respect.

I am a student at Crownpoint High School and this is my thoughts about people and society.

Thaniah Thompson
Crownpoint High School
Crownpoint, N.M.

Recycling trash

There is a lot of trash around the world. There are some along the highways and a lot outside. People just throw their trash wherever they like, thinking it is OK for them because they are too lazy to get up and throw away the trash. Leaving trash and not throwing it away can badly affect the wildlife and the environment.

Recycling the trash can lead to safer changes to the environment. The trash that is not recycled goes to a landfill where they burn the trash, which can be harsh to the atmosphere and cause air pollution.

The trash that is not recycled like plastic, wrappers, etc., can be eaten by the animals, which they would not be able to digest. They would die if they ate that kind of stuff. That is why recycling the trash in the world can lead to less trash and healthier environment.

Kailyn Endito
Crownpoint High School
Crownpoint, N.M.

Clean up litter

My hometown, Crownpoint, is a beautiful place with nice scenery but one thing that makes it less beautiful and negatively affects the community is litter. People throw their remains out the window and it ends up along the road, or they dump trash in ditches along the road.

Local chapter houses should get together to help solve this problem and make Crownpoint beautiful again.

Francesca Martinez
Crownpoint High School
Crownpoint, N.M.

Culture is who you are

Culture is part of who you are. Some people may know their culture, however, there are some on the reservation who don’t. Not everyone was brought up with culture being in their homes.

That being said, the culture is dying and I want people to know how important it is to them and others. Culture should be an inspiration to Natives, especially young children. Your nieces, nephews, children — anyone that you may know can learn a lot from you. Family and others close can teach them the way they should participate in cultural activities. They need to know the purpose of how they are unique in a way where no one can take it from them.

Studying their culture and language would give them a better chance at understanding their grandparents talking to them in Navajo and they would already know what they’re saying and be able to translate back whether it’s in English or Navajo. They would be able to help and assist in doing the type of activities that their family is doing and understand what you should and should not do.

I know a little about the Navajo teachings, but not that much. I am still learning the Navajo language and it’s nice to know that I’m able to listen and hear what other people are saying. I can relate to the ones who don’t really know what they are supposed to be doing because I’m at the same place you are, but we can learn together if we take the time to do it.

Logan Victorino
Crownpoint High School
Lake Valley, N.M.

Diné language is sacred

Many Native Americans do not know how to speak their language. As Diné people, we need to learn and be able to speak the language. Our language is sacred, we must keep it alive for our children and for future generations. Whether it’s kids or adults, it is important that we know and speak our language.

As a 15-year-old, I want to learn the language and know more about my background as a young Native American. Learning the language will keep us connected with the elders and will also keep us as people of the Diné.

We must protect our culture.

Edison Haskie Jr.
Crownpoint High School
Crownpoint, N.M.

We need to develop Spanish Valley

As a Native American resident of San Juan County, I have some serious concerns about how our commissioners have been handling Spanish Valley near Moab and its potential development.

Moab and Grand County leaders have really been cozy with our commissioners lately because they are wanting to have influence over them for their own selfish purposes. The basis of my concern starts with the fact that Moab City residents don’t pay any property taxes. All of their city funding comes from commercial taxes and transient room tax (TRT Tax). Because of this fact, it is apparent to me that the control of commercial development is their main priority.

Moab City leaders and some of their residents understand this and they don’t want anything to interfere with or interrupt their cushy way of life or ideal economic structure. Preserving their tax base is why they are getting so heavily involved with San Juan County, its politics and the development of Spanish Valley.

Frankly speaking, they are threatened by development in Spanish Valley, their lack of control over it and the probability that it might compete or interfere with their wealth and their way of life.

Just prior to the recent elections of our new commissioners, when Moab City was really frustrated with the future prospects of the development of the San Juan County portion of Spanish Valley, there was a Moab Sun News article dated July 19, 2018. In that article Mayor Dave Sakrison said, “Moab should explore annexing all land in Spanish Valley because it would give them control over what happens in that area.”

Annexing the San Juan portion of Spanish Valley into Moab would be a really bad thing for San Juan County. This is because we have a lot of very poor communities in San Juan County and we would lose the opportunity for any distribution of wealth via tax revenues. In other words, we couldn’t use any of those revenues in other parts of the county. If the San Juan County commissioners truly want what is best for the poor areas of San Juan County then they will stop listening to Moab City leaders and start considering the development of Spanish Valley.

My main concern is to protect the future of the most impoverished Native American communities and we need to stop protecting the Moab’s rich, cushy way of life and start looking for every way to take care of our own communities.

Ryan Benally
Montezuma Creek, Utah

A win for sovereign tribal rights

I write to highlight the win for sovereign tribal rights that U.S. Supreme Court Justice Gorsuch afforded the Indian Nations with his affirming vote. As articulated by Justice Sotomayor, “Wyoming’s admission into the Union did not abrogate the Crow Tribe’s off-reservation treaty hunting right.” “… There is also no evidence in the treaty itself that Congress intended the hunting right to expire at statehood, or that the Crow Tribe would have understood it to do so. Nor does the historical record support such a reading of the treaty.”

When the SCOTUS overturned Nevada v. Hall, the sovereign states took a sigh of relief. Now, it is Indian Country’s turn. The ruling for the Crow Tribe this week, affirms sovereign tribes’ entity status as weighed against the states in the eyes of the U.S. Constitution.

As pre-Spanish Dinétah spans across the modern four states of Utah, Nevada, New Mexico, and Colorado, it is of comfort to Indian Country that Justice Gorsuch has decided for the inherent rights of pre-constitutional Indian peoples and their agreements with the federal United States.

SCOTUS has clearly asserted in this latest ruling that self-evident “rights of the creator” extend to Native tribes and their members as well. SCOTUS iterates: “Mille Lacs Court concluded, there is no reason to find statehood itself sufficient ‘to extinguish Indian treaty rights to hunt, fish, and gather on land within state boundaries.’ 526 U.S., at 205.”

For now, these rulings may not mean much instantly on the ranch or at the laundromat. But in that ancient battle of Indian peoples “to be recognized in an ever-changing Congress,” the Indian nations have a friend in Herrera v. Wyoming. If Justice Breyer is worried about court cases being overturned, then I’d like to see Carcieri v. Salazar undone next.

Stuart Nathan Shorty
Ganado, Ariz.

Keep calm and decolonize

We have been doing what settlers want us to do (resource extraction, weapons manufacture, unplanned growth) and not what is best for us or Dinetah. We should be discussing the future direction of our nation so we can put our people and money to work. We need to transition from the fossil fuel industry to renewable and sustainable energy, which is free, provided daily, and in abundance.

We need to stop destroying our land and start caring for Mother Earth. If she is healthy, we will be healthy. Clear solutions to our overgrazed, eroded and exploited food desert exist. What we need is informed decision making, practical solutions and political will to make the following transitions:

• Change name from Navajo Nation to Diné or Diné Nation.

• Change from multiple, scattered goals and missions to one — Hozho.

• Align departments, programs and enterprises to accomplish Hozho.

• Change from obsolete industries to the outdoor industry ($670 billion) to promote health and economy.

• Change from obsolete, bankrupt industries to the outdoor industry ($670 billion).

• Change from food insecurity to food security.

• Remove invasive species and replace with indigenous species.

• Move from unchecked, overgrazing to managed pasturing.

• Move from unsustainable living to sustainable living.

• Move from biological extinction to reintroduction. We have the intellect, tools and capacity to do this.

Matt Tafoya
Fort Defiance, Ariz.

New Council needs to reverse wrongs

Please print this letter soon so that hopefully it can have an impact on the Navajo Nation Council’s plan or list of sustainable matters to address of urgent concern to most people, especially people being “wronged” for no fault on their part.

I observed this as having been well expressed in an “opinion” printed in the May 16 issue of the Navajo Times on Page A6 with proper pitch to our new Council titled, “What is going on at NHA?” also known as the Navajo Housing Authority. This letter clearly explains what went wrong since the unjust removal of the ousting we based on unjustified allegation used to force the capricious removal without due process.

There must be something the new (present) Council, do transparency to reverse the wrong. Can the Council actively cause reparation so that the ousted board can be reinstated or bestowed adequate restitution to the damaged and humiliated members of the ousted board without having our dirty laundry washed in public through the courts, where the sitting judge can order photographic display of the risqué scenes alleged so far in the media?

Also cited in the Times is a project needing support is a memorial for veterans in construction. It is my hope that, when completed, such a memorial will help realize that a functional Veteran’s Act is needed for the Navajo veterans who are now without an Act. The document purported as a Veteran’s Act by the past tribal administration is none other than a resolution relocating Veterans Administration and establishing an advisory committee. To me, what appears to be needed is a U.S. Regional Office to serve all of our veterans in New Mexico, Arizona and Utah, primarily funded by the federal government since all of our veterans are veterans of the U.S. national wars and international conflicts, and not only the Navajo Nation, which is experiencing diminishing funds.

There are other ideas to recommend as ways to help stabilize our government, but the most professional way would be to have a professional evaluation done by a team of concerned or empathetic professional planners done at cost rather than the usual Navajo style public hearings in which we usually end up pooling our own lack of visions and ability to think outside the circles. Sihasin should prevail.

Dan Vicenti
Crownpoint, N.M.

Graduates need to join public forums

This letter is written in hopes that all the new graduates will join public forums and voices to cultivate new voices to help shape, guide and leverage our government policy toward improving ground-level lives and living conditions of our people, vis-à-vis, education and economics.

With the record number of exceptional new graduates, it is now time to apply the newly acquired knowledge to public good and set new goals to help distressed communities. Knowledge we are taught in our traditional culture must be kept personal, reserved for one’s well-being in mind, body and spirit. On the other it must be shared.

Within the context of Si-ah Naaghaii Bek’eh Hozhoon, knowledge is acquired for self-preservation, protection, for strength and beauty of life. Knowledge must be shared with others for the welfare and well-being of others, a deeply sacred cultural canon. The vanishing priceless human capital, the loss of new knowledge to emigration where our new graduates are leaving our homeland in droves amidst widespread cultural malaise in our homeland is painfully evident.

The power of one’s thoughts invoked through the holy deities conducted by Dine’ cultural visionaries may no longer be as evident and widespread as they once were within our Four Sacred Mountains, but political doorways must nonetheless be opened wider and equitably for the new graduates.

For some, graduates in this age of digital global transnational education must now apply their newly acquired tools to reach out to our regional distressed local communities, to not leave behind our “Forgotten People.” Graduates must return. Why? Not because it is celebratory, although that is very important, but because it is necessary. Returning to one’s homeland, to one’s people for harmony and completeness, are after all inherent in our sacred Blessing Way songs.

Harold G. Begay
To’Nanees’ Dizi, Ariz.

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