Letters | Rhetoric and reality of federal financial dependence
A current $10-billion Navajo economy infused from the presence of hospitals, government grants, school districts, private businesses, and government agencies has the potential to generate an annual $600 million non-discretionary revenue for the Navajo Nation government, and we continue to choose to rely on advocating for more federal funding? This is a more direct summary of the Navajo Times editorial I wrote in June 2022.
There are two points to consider in our government choosing federal financial assistance as the only method to address our nation’s social, health, educational, and economic disparities.
Regarding the first point, one should understand Ronald Reagan’s comments from 1988 on the United States’ treatment of American Indians, “We’ve done everything we can to meet their demands as to how they want to live, ” he said. “Maybe we made a mistake. Maybe we should not have humored them in that wanting to stay in that kind of primitive lifestyle. Maybe we should have said no, come join us; be citizens along with the rest of us.”
To many, Reagan’s statement is racist, but to me, it’s a recognition of a foregone opportunity for any Indian nation to seize in advancing their federal-Indian relationship to better their nation; an opportunity persistently presenting itself to Indian nations to go beyond federal programs and financial assistance and set a pathway to define their destiny and to pursue them under their terms.
I know here that the opportunity was and still is about questioning exactly what we have done for ourselves rather than what more federal financial assistance can do for us. When Reagan’s comments are heard intently, it echoes John F. Kennedy’s invitation “ask not what your country do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”
And is it any wonder of elected leaders when the congress and federal administrations ask, “what does Navajo need from the federal government to change its social outcome,” 99.9 percent of the time, our elected officials choose more federal financial assistance and invariably don’t ask to amend laws and regulations that impede on our progress so that we can move toward less dependency.
The second point is the accepted choice by our elected officials. The Navajo of its federal assistance cites such choice as “protracted subsidies.” These choices have similarly caused generational pauperization in other countries that give similar-like aid to indigenous peoples. This observation is cited by a book that studied the lack of development in the least developed third-world countries.
In the book, Reality, and Rhetoric, Studies in the Economics of Development by economist Peter T. Bauer provide insight into how our choice for more and more federal funding leads to further dependence. And from what we now know of the Navajo Nation’s $1.2 billion annual budget consisting of over 90% financial assistance from other government sources, it should have us ask how much is too much to make us realize that we are too dependent on federal financial aid.
Short of any rational review of our policy in how we address our social, health, education, economic, and employment inequities, maybe the present and persistent act of returning the very same federal assistance we received back to Washington should awaken us to the fact that we do have too much federal financial aid.
However, we can count on the current inflation, the federal Inflation Reduction Act and the Build Back Better act, or a push for a green economy to once again stain in line to ask for more federal financial assistance.
So going back to my point of an existing $10 billion dollar economy that could generate $600 million in revenue for the Navajo Nation government through our taxes, it would generate at least one-half of the Nation’s $1.2 billion annual budget. More importantly, if we are generating our income, wouldn’t we have greater self-rule in its use as opposed to the strings attached to federal financial assistance?
One would think that doing for ourselves would be of greater value than having others do for us with the rules they set for us. If history is any guide to what we should expect in the short term and the long run, one can say that our future will stay dependent on federal financial assistance. And this, at some point, has to change, if only sooner, not later.
Raymond K. Nopah