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Letters: No heat in Crystal Senior Center

Last year on the second Wednesday of December, 2019, I had the pleasure of driving the grand knight, Mr. Silvestre Sanchez, from the Grand Knights of Columbus, Las Cruces, New Mexico, to the Crystal Senior Center, in Crystal (Navajo Nation) New Mexico.

The Knights of Columbus donated $500 to the Crystal Senior Center to buy sewing machines, etc., so that the elderly could continue making blankets and quilts for the elderly who do not have the means to buy blankets and/or for families who cannot afford to buy blankets for their children. During our visit, we asked why the elderly were eating in the chapter house and not in the senior center — a beautiful brand new building — but we were told that there is no heating system in the senior center.

A brand new building with no heating system? Who from the Navajo tribal government gave the OK for the center to be used/opened when the building was not complete? Furthermore, no fire suppression system? Is that not a liability issue? Not complete? Furthermore, all they were given for heating is a woodstove — a woodstove that does not work, and no secondary heating. I asked the center manager, Louise Q. Mark, if she contacted the Navajo Nation, to which she said she was told, “Only the original contractor can correct their work.”

This contractor needs to be brought to the senior center and locked up in the center. Maybe then he or she will realize just how cold it is and how the elderly feel. They should also be shunned from doing business on the Navajo Nation — Navajo or not!

Where are the elected officials in all of this? Chapter president, Mr. Raymond Tsosie; vice president, Ms. Patricia Slim; secretary-treasurer, Ms. Virginia Benally; and Council Delegate, Mr. Wilson Stewart Jr.? How long has the senior center been in operation since they moved into this new building — three years? What is the age of this building? 10 years! And still no heating in the senior center, or a fire suppression system for the whole chapter building, which includes the preschool, senior center and the community center itself — and they are in operation?

Where is the director of the Senior Center Program-Fort Defiance Agency, Ms. Lenora Henderson, whom may I add is acting director for the Division of Aging and Long Term Care, while the elderly suffer the consequences of the negligent contractor?

I would like to ask Navajo Nation president, Jonathan Nez, if he can intervene and help resolve this problem? I bet the criminals in our jails get proper heating. Why is it that we don’t have that same for the elderly at the Crystal Senior Center? Where are our cultural teachings — do they not exist anymore? I am ashamed of my elected officials who sit back and enjoy warmth in their workstations, the chapter houses, and at home — while the elderly at Crystal Senior Center freeze and cannot utilize the center.

Why did we elect you when you let our elders suffer the cold at the Crystal Senior Center? You and the contractor — shame on you!

Sarah Tsosie
Las Cruces, N.M.

Thanks for running my letters

Happy New Year to the Navajo Times staff, readers and members of the Navajo Nation from Totah. May the New Year bring you lots of joy and happiness. It’s been a satisfying experience composing letters of which most were published in the past year.

I have always made every effort to make my letters concise and to the point so readers can understand it, not get confused or get bored.

My letters usually were on the elected tribal officials and highlight on the national scenes with federal elected officials. Many of the readers praised me for having the courage to write letters and encouraged me to continue to keep the leaders in check, particularly our tribal leaders.

The pat on the back is good, but the consequences have worked in many negative ways, so I made a decision to scale back on writing letters in the coming days and months.

I am thankful for those who gave me praise. Proud of our heritage, respectful of our past and hopeful of our future, I hereby extend my best wishes to the staff of the Navajo Times for their outstanding journalism and also for publishing my letters.

May you walk in beauty, in harmony and in peace. Thank you.

Vern Charleston
Farmington, N.M.

BIE transfer of authority not working

Today we have immense problems in our schools and many of us had been looking forward to seeing real solutions from the Bureau of Indian Education transfer-of-authority project that the Department of Diné Education has been working on, but so far that project has failed to deliver a real product we can wrap our arms around.

Navajo school kids, whether in BIE or public schools, face enormous challenges — many of those challenges are directly related to the fact that so many of them grow up in impoverished homes. Some are homeless. Some are hungry. Some have only one parent. Some have bad teachers and administrators. It is difficult — and expensive — to help students in such distress learn.

Except none more serious than placing poorly or inadequately prepared educators in charge to manage this project and others similar. And yet that is exactly what a change of this magnitude must address, but so far it is the best kept secret how this change of authority would address these difficult circumstances. Well, I am told, there is no plan.

For far too many children in these schools, the educational system is letting them down. Most of what I’ve learned from reliable Navajo tribal and BIE employees, this transfer of authority is more about exercising tribal control and attaining access to additional BIE education funds. These are scarce funds that parents and a good many delegates would rather see remain with the children and the schools.

Then again, what is lacking is serious talks about how BIE schools will improve by having the tribe operate the schools. So, when the BIE and the U.S. Office of Education awarded funds to DODE to entice Navajo BIE parents to approve this change, some perceived it to be a bold and positive step, including myself. It is not working. As we hear daily from BIE board members, administrators, teachers and many delegates, they are not willing to see this change of authority go through.

That should hardly come as a surprise. This project was actually initiated by the BIE as a way to get Congress and the White House off their backs and not have to sit in front of congressional committees answering tough questions. Rather than call this initiative a waste of scarce BIE dollars, let’s call it a “learning experience.”

Here are a few of the takeaways BIE and Navajo tribal officials offer:

1. Change of this nature requires a much greater understanding of educational systemic issues than what DODE leadership can provide. Tribal and DODE officials need to address several underlying and deeply entrenched factors along with the leadership skills and reform-minded ideas for undertaking such a project.

2. The expenses spent trying to entice BIE and Navajo tribal parents would have been better applied to a public education campaign for the entire Navajo community, conveying how the change will improve Navajo BIE schools. Change the focus of DODE from a primarily “regulatory and sanction” emphasis to more of a “service” agency to help Navajo BIE schools get better. Build up DODE’s and the tribe’s capacity to deliver, and thus build trust with Navajo BIE officials and parents.

3. Proceed with care, not political expediency. Make it less a top-down initiative and build from the grassroots level. Major obstacles stand in the way when you don’t reach out to the BIE education community and parents to be involved in the initiative. This obstacle runs deep. It requires learning, patience and a commitment that goes well beyond than the BIE pushing this on to the tribe.

There are countless other well intended programs being implemented by both the tribe and DODE education officials. But this project is among the latest in a long string of blunders that need serious attention from the president, the Council and the Navajo board of education. For starters, they need to hire a superintendent who understands Navajo K-12 school leadership, as well as leadership skills on how to plan for school reform.

Wallace Hanley
Window Rock, Ariz.

Design system for students to be bilingual

An open letter to members of the Gallup-McKinley County School Board: I have previously voiced my support for school district policies and programs that will help revitalize Navajo language knowledge and use by students. I have done so in the past as a K-12 and college administrator, as a McKinley County school board member, and as a community member. I want to explain several reasons why I hold this position.

1) Most Navajo parents and leaders desire and support Navajo language programs in schools to teach and strengthen Navajo language. Every survey of parents, and there have been a number, and indicators of parent goals show that the majority of Navajo parents favor schools helping teach their children the Navajo/Diné language. Navajo Nation leaders consistently voice the same support. President Jonathan Nez and Vice President Myron Lizer have praised the recent passage of the federal Native American Languages Programs Reauthorization Act, which they had supported in “hope that future generations will continue to speak the Navajo language.”

2) The school district should pay attention to these voices, and conduct programs that effectively support Navajo language learning and usage. Schools bear a unique responsibility in this regard because historically schools’ Western and colonizing policies and practices have been a key factor in causing the loss of Navajo language. In earlier years this included directly prohibiting, and even punishing students for speaking the language. In recent times more subtle ways have minimized the use and importance of the language in education goals and curriculum.

3) Incorporating Navajo language can have pedagogical value. Best practices in education, as addressed at times in the district’s professional development training, indicate that including students’ home languages, cultures, and identity in curriculum content and teaching methods can increase parent support and student motivation and students’ overall academic achievement.

4) The Ten Commandments state, “Thou shalt not steal.” I believe that the Navajo language has been stolen as a result of an education system that requires students to spend most of the hours of a day, most of the day of the week, most of the weeks of the year, and most of their formative developmental years in an essentially all-English environment that measures success in terms of English-based knowledge with English instruments.

I do not believe that English learning is bad; I believe that it is essential. But it has come — it has been done — at the expense of Navajo language. This can be corrected and a system can be designed that will enable students to be bilingual and that in the process can enrich the thinking of students and staff alike. I would be happy to discuss this further with you.

Lynn Huenemann
Gallup, N.M.

Take a look at enterprise boards

The issues around Navajo Transitional Energy Company and their activities are now a good time to discuss Navajo boards. The tribe has always had issues with individuals that sit on their enterprise boards.

One has to ask: Why do boards have issues on the Navajo Nation? One reason is once board terms expire new board members are not quickly selected. NTEC’s recent activities of solicitation and hiring tribal leaders are a prime example of what boards will do if they go unchecked.

When board members and their CEOs get too close the result is bad decision-making. This is the second reason, which causes problems. If boards go unchecked the result is making changes that do not benefit the tribe or the people.

As an example, NTEC has been bold in moving their senior managers to Denver. Navajo revenue is now managed by non-Navajos far from Navajo land. Boards should be changed out on a regular basis. The president and Council oftentimes don’t take the time to check on how boards are doing and performing.

The longer board members stay in positions the closer they get to their CEO and then the abuse of power occurs. What NTEC has done by buying a formal official (Lorenzo Bates) to convince sitting officials is what will happen. Money and power can and will be abused.

What NTEC has done will always be remembered. Each time they deal with the tribes they will be remembered as the entity that sought to buy government officials. There are many professional Navajos that can sit on boards and make good decisions that help the people. The leadership needs to let those individuals be given a chance and change out those boards.

Tom Yazzie
Shiprock, N.M.

Who is watching the Navajos’ house?

Recently there has been lots of talk about Navajo Transitional Energy Company’s new coalmine purchases. The question Navajo leadership has to ask is who is watching the Navajo house?

The Nation put the Navajo people’s money into NTEC and getting it started. With BHP leaving the coal business on Navajo Nation, the tribe took a step in supporting a coal agreement that would benefit the tribe up until 2031. Early on, the coal miners and the tribe knew the deal was solid between APS plant and NTEC.

All that has changed with the purchase of the new mines in Wyoming and Montana. The NTEC headquarters office is now located out of Denver. The finance office from Navajo Mine (Navajo money) has now moved to Wyoming. It’s clear a weak board oversight allowed this to happen. Is this really what Navajo Nation wanted and intended when they created NTEC? Who is watching the Navajo house and non-Navajo managers’ decisions?

Our Navajo chapters were informed that all support they will be getting will come from the Wyoming procurement offices that now administers all of NTEC funds. The hiring of any and all new employees is done out of Wyoming. Potential Navajo employees will never benefit.

Experts say those mines in Wyoming and Montana coming out of bankruptcy will take several years to be profitable. Estimates by watchdogs say that if all goes well the bankrupt Wyoming/Montana coalmines could start to make a small profit in four years. NTEC has never shown the tribe what the profit of those mines will be in Wyoming and Montana. The question is “as those mines come out of bankruptcy who is covering those costs?”

It’s clear in NTEC’s case that it will have to be another source. Outside experts say it is Navajo revenue from Navajo mine that will have to carry those Wyoming/Montana mines. This is what happens when you don’t watch the house and allow a non-Navajo CEO and his managers to determine what is best for Navajo.

On behalf of the Navajo people, we ask: What now Navajo Nation leadership?

Albert John
Shiprock, N.M.

We are our own worst enemy

In this new age of 2020, there is irony and uncertainty of fate for the overlords of the dominant society as they incriminate their alleged genius-king; and meanwhile we, the indigenous on the reservation, go about our daily lives with minimal social progress.

Our basic problem is we have become our own worst enemy. As a point, anytime there is innovation for a leap forward, always to come are the buzzwords of “sacredness, tradition, and clan relations” that hinder and manipulate such progressive venture out of existence. And we are back to where we started, with nothing but frustrations, complaints, and disappointments.

Further examples, our concerns for ecology and local climate change. The showstoppers: the standoff on overpopulation of feral horses and wild stray dogs as one transforms our homeland into sand dunes, while another diminishes our livestock, if not us. And from littering to illegal dumping, soon we may be standing in a toxic wasteland. Without enthusiasm once flourishing farmlands now barren, topsoil dust to the wind. And without insights and attention, self-generated individual issues give rise to social problems. Afterwards in most cases we blame our government for not helping us when rational personal responsibility and initial prevention could have provided a quick fix.

Mainly, we seemed to willingly neglect our sense of duty in the preservation and care for the essential life elements — the air (spirit, intuition), water (emotion, compassion), fire (mental, logic), and earth (physical, health) even though we were once lords of the earth. Now we try to copy the overlords in our own crude way to fit in, extending into our governing systems, but our Native customs (fundamental law) gets in the way.

At times we breathe fire of frustrations and create fury of confusion, but in the end does it seem much easier to excuse offenders of their alleged violations or crimes? Without consequences, alleged criminals realize nothing while the enforcer is possibly ridiculed, sneered, and scorned. Surely who wants a label that is a befitting alias Indian name as “White-Man-Runs-Him?” And with pure cosmic-consciousness, no violence so no need for social control mechanisms.

Here we are, knowing the dominant society do not exercise their emotional side for social progress, instead substitute it with social control systems, as in rules, laws, regulations, policies, or direct commands. This is their mentality for getting things done, strictly enforced without patience or mercy. Obviously, without concrete communication, cooperation, coordination, foresight, enforcement, and prevention there is continuance on desecration and rape of Mother Earth.

We will have failed to understand who we have become and how this affects our “inter-connectiveness” with our environment. As our mental aspect yielded to copy foreign behavioral patterns and practices of the overlords, our emotional self shut down and detached from sensitivity and could this disengagement profoundly alter our genetic characteristics on the cellular level that imprints generations onward?

For allegiance most of us surrendered our voice, identity, and our very soul, with fractional holdouts. Within this social conditioning for obedience our endurance depended on survival instincts. Perhaps now we need further solitude to smoke and reflect on how to unravel our learned indifference and unsympathetic gestures towards our perceptions of life and our environment. And with each new dawn, a time to honor our ancestors for what they endured for us to be here today.

And in honoring them we are also honoring ourselves. After conquest of the stronghold of habits, then rescue and reclaim our emotional expressions. It is this natural force that can proceed us beyond our potentials, to be free of the bondage of our conditioned, limited mental mind. Our incentives, to feel at peace, to savor the sweetness of life, and exercise our free will as we secure the future for our children to live the way of Mother Earth. And yes, we have every right to be here, for we are the resilient originals.

Robert L. Hosteen
Beclabito, N.M.


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