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Letters: Thank you to all veterans

During this Veterans Day, I would like to express my gratitude to all veterans of this great nation, which we call home. It is because of our veterans of all members of the armed forces that we have freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and do whatever we want in our country and homeland.

But it wasn’t free, there was sacrifice.

Courtesy photo
Johnson Tracey served with the 128th Assault Helicopter Company, 1st Aviation Brigade, and later with the First Cavalry in Phu Loi Vietnam, 1970-71.

Not only our veterans, but our parents and loved ones, which we left behind here at home when we left for war since they also struggled to comfort the family and visiting their spiritual leader for prayers while one of their own is in combat far from home.

As a combat veteran, we went to war as young kids, but came back as men, carrying memories, wounds, scars, and different kinds of illnesses.

As for myself, I go down to Tucson VA hospital for my treatment two times a month and I realize that I gotten myself killed in Vietnam and didn’t even know about it, until recently.

There’s a lot of veterans that came home with illnesses and passed on, and I only remember a handful of them from the Vietnam era: Timothy McCabe from Cross Canyon, Bobby Lowe from Ganado, Vincent Willard from Klagetoh, Harold Dedman from Nazlini, and Larry Brenner from Nazlini, all from Arizona.

These veterans were some of the real heroes.

Some of us veterans finally got our house built on our home-site lease and had to put some amount of money down before starting to pay for it.

Several years later, the housing board members told us that the house would be paid off for us, so we were all excited and happy about it and how our Navajo Nation was treating us, but several months later, they changed their mind and told us to start paying for it again. So now we’re struggling again with payments.

So, thank you board members, and I hope you all sleep peaceful every night.

Anyway, I sense that there’s going to be another civil war in the United States in the near future since we have a weak president (Biden) in office now with open borders on our southern side and no security with divided country. It all depends on who’s going to take the first shot.

I might have gotten off on a tangent on my expression of gratitude to all veterans, so thank you for your service and sacrifice, and welcome home. And those who served before me, with me, after me, and who are on a faraway soil in the present.

Johnson Tracey
Nazlini, Ariz.

Words of thanks

It’s been a long, painful heartbreaking and heartbroken nine weeks since we’ve grieved on hearing of the lost of our son at work in Morenci, Arizona, on Sept. 15.

Cleveland Sloan

Our son, Cleveland Ozbourne Sloan, aka Ozzy, 33, was Honágháahnii (One-walks-around Clan), born to Deeshchii’nii (Start of the Red Streak People Clan). His cheiis were Tódích’íi’nii (Bitter Water); nalis were Tsé deeshgizhnii (Rock Gap). His kids were Kinłichíi’nii (Red House People).

He resided in Red Lake community with his family.

He was in his prime as a certified welder, had four beautiful kids with a loving, caring wife whom he supported. He had a nice doublewide mobile home, vehicles and a gooseneck travel trailer, which he took to work.

He graduated from Page High, went to Tulsa Welding School in Oklahoma along with some of his close friends from high school. They worked closely from job to job around the country to support their loved ones at home like most of our kids.

He was a really safety-minded person at work and around his homestead. Like his mother-in-law would say, “He was a machine.” That’s what confuses us about the accident.

We, as a family, just want to say a big thank you to all for your support, prayers with condolences, kind words, and donations through GoFundMe and Zelle account. Your contributions to cover funeral expenses, along with food and help from relatives, were based on what our son meant to you.

To his co-workers who showed up and cared enough to help out at his funeral and relatives with beautiful NAC songs to carry his spirit on to the afterlife with the heavenly people … Aho!

We will miss him greatly, daily, on special days, and on his birthday on the 26th of November. The songs he sung, his greetings, hugs, and carrying his love of all kids, especially his funny jokes on us all.

We still really don’t know the full details on what happened to him, it is still under investigation. We just hope the co-workers at the time working in the immediate area with him would give the full truth on what really happened. What safety policies were in place? Where was the hole watch? Bosses? Beepers or alarms? Ventilations?

Was he repairing someone’s poor weld? Why did rescue take forever to find the place? Or why weren’t they nearby if it was that dangerous?

His co-workers are probably working at other jobs already while his family, parents, siblings, and relatives still painfully deal without him daily. Don’t carry the truth; it will be a heavy burden on your shoulders.

May God bless his soul. “A’heh’heh naa’na”

Leonard Sloan
Cedar Ridge, Ariz.

What I saw, what I heard

After much contemplation and taking many deep breaths and letting some time pass, I’d like to offer my thoughts on the march to the Navajo Nation Council Chamber on Oct. 18.

I was there that day and have been very troubled by the events that I witnessed. That incident should never have happened if proper safeguards had been set in place. Certainly, this incident was unexpected and unanticipated so it’s understandable that people were unprepared.

I was seated in front of the speakers and approximately 20 to 25 feet from where the incident occurred. At no time did President Nez attack or assault these men. These men need to be truthful and admit that they were the aggressors.

When we were gathering at the Navajo Nation Museum to prepare for the march, I noticed them with their sign and I wondered what the wording on the sign had to do with purpose of the march, which I understood was to bring awareness to domestic violence.

These men were already being loud and aggressive and when President Nez and first lady and Vice President Lizer arrived to join in the march, they ramped up their behavior towards Nez when they saw him.

Nez, to his credit, refused to engage with them as they harassed him during the entire march.

Let me be clear: The only purpose these men were there for was to provoke and get a reaction from the president. That’s all.

There was no other reason as they certainly were not there to support the message of a peaceful march and seemed ready to provoke violence on our leaders.

It was a peaceful march and we were intent on getting the message out to people of the horrors of domestic violence on our lands and the difficulty in getting justice for the victims, but these men were getting in front of the marchers and taunting and harassing Nez.

No one on the march or those driving by can say they did not see the sign. It was a big banner and they made sure to be right next to and close to president and the delegates who were at the front of the march.

They were asked to step back and, I assume, asked to stop crowding all the people who were speaking or waiting to speak. I found it distracting as the focus went from the purpose of the peaceful march to the men creating a problem by trying to force a confrontation. Everyone was on edge and I could see it was not going to end well.

Again, Nez did not engage with them. He’s a much better person than me as I would’ve asked for the harassment to be put to a stop from law enforcement.

As the gathering started to come to a close with the last speakers, Nez started to leave to go across the street. The men started following him and crowding on each side of him. I did see Nez stop and turn around and extend his hand for a handshake and that’s when it took a turn for the worse.

The men became enraged that their planned confrontation with Nez did not take place as the president did not take their bait and refused to engage during the whole march.

I saw Nez backing away from them as they aggressively rushed him. I saw a man step in between Nez and the men and would not let them get closer to him, which they continued to do.

The man blocked them and the men started pushing the man as a scuffle broke out. Nez was able to continue walking but again were aggressively followed by the men and their supporters shouting at him.

It was harrowing to watch and I truly feared that Nez would be physically hurt by these enraged men. What if these men were carrying a knife or a gun?

The whole purpose of the march was extinguished then and there.

One of the organizers, to her credit, did get on the loudspeaker and condemned the violence that ensued by these men. She pointed out that this march was to bring awareness to domestic violence and many men and women are survivors and are easily triggered.

This violence instigated by these men at the march was completely unnecessary and dangerous. Not only to president, but to all the people attending. We were put at risk by the actions of these men so they could fulfill their selfish agenda.

This is what I saw, what I heard, and what I felt. My perspective. No one else.

Emotions are high right now on our nation. I daresay that parts of our Navajo Nation government are broken.

I disagree with some decisions made by our leaders. I don’t always agree with Nez either but remember that delegates are also decision-makers. They are the ones who make the laws.

There are delegates who are mindful of the responsibility placed on their shoulders and truly care as they advocate for their constituents. We know who they are.

There are delegates who do not care. We know who they are. This includes leaders in our local chapter governments.

We must learn to use caution in our words and our actions. Words can cause harm and even death. We have been told this. Why are we not listening to the words of our elders, our medicine people?

Why are we not heeding the lessons learned by our ancestors, who passed their wisdom and knowledge to us, to build a strong nation for our precious children?

We have already identified the major problems we face as a nation. It’s not easy to right mistakes that have been made in the past and being made now.

Our nation is in distress because of some of the decisions made by our leaders and we are frustrated by the many valid issues affecting our Diné. Our concerns seem to be ignored by our leaders, which brings more frustration.

We have a right to be involved in decisions made on our behalf by our leaders. We also have the responsibility to make clear our expectations of them. If we don’t, we are to blame.

I fear for our nation if we can’t come together to offer solutions to the issues that face us. We must put aside our personal differences and focus on the bigger picture of healing our nation.

Everything our Dine’ went through, the suffering, even losing their lives, the struggles they went through to preserve our culture for us, will be for nothing.

I believe in our Dine’ and I believe in our young people. I want our homeland to be a place of safety and refuge for us and our children. It is no accident that we are still here after eons of time.

We face hard times in this uncertain and chaotic world. We’ve lost 1,500 of our people to COVID-19. It’s still here among us. We’re still losing loved ones.

We must acknowledge and pay tribute to our moms, our dads, our siblings, our children, our grandparents, our cousins, our relatives, and our friends who were taken so suddenly by this invisible monster. Our hearts are shattered and we keenly feel their absence. We will love and miss them forever.

Let’s focus on these real facts in our lives. We will have no one except each other soon. Let’s all take a deep breath and seek clarity of our mind, our heart and our soul. We are good people because our elders set the standard. We must thank our Creator for this.

We are not helpless and we have power in our votes. The leaders must take heed, if not, we will vote them out. It’s that simple.

To the leaders in our Navajo government: Listen to your Diné because our children and our grandchildren are watching and listening.

Now go out and chop some wood for grandma.

Rita Bilagody
Tonaneesdizi, Ariz.

Delegates have no idea on BIE plans

Listening to the hearings on the radio concerning the reapportionment of Navajo BIE School boards, I listened to delegates Carl Slater and Pernell Halona’s comments. It is very apparent they have no idea the impact of plan 6 on the issues that need attention to improve BIE funded schools.

The points Mr. Slater emphasized are issues outside the control of BIE board members, but are ones the Education Committee, the Navajo Board of Education, and DODE have the power to influence to improve BIE education.

Instead, he pointed fingers at the board members as if they have the power to change, etc.

I would like Mr. Slater to ask his exact questions for why DODE, the Navajo Board of Education, and the Education Committee have failed to exercise leadership to fixing these long-standing problems.

Longtime BIE school board members, administrators, teachers, parents, and chapter officials who were speaking are all familiar with DODE’s difficulties trying to get a grip on what they should be doing to improve Navajo schools. Mr. Slater and Mr. Halona, through their comments, confirmed the Education Committee is as shallow as DODE.

They are good at knee-jerk reaction to what should be a relatively commonsense problem(s) to solve. As a result, they keep pushing this practice of deceiving Navajo leaders, parents, and BIE school board members, and when they realize they cannot get what they want, they resort to top-down decision making. They do not have a record of accomplishment when it comes to solving long-standing education problems.

It is unfortunate the Education Committee and the Council allowed themselves to be misled by DODE to go with plan 6 of the Navajo BIE school board reapportionment. I can assure you not one BIE school board member favored plan 6.

We voted for plan 4 as that would keep a locally elected board member closer to the school they are to represent, and not assigned to another school located in another community they know nothing about.

If you are a parent or an employee represented by a board member who is from another community, there is a danger the commitment will not be the same. Following the meetings DODE convened earlier in the year, we consistently advised them plan 4 was preferred, and plans 1 or 2 were workable plans but required major adjustments. DODE totally ignored the suggestions for which they had asked our input.

As a veteran school board member, I know how critical it is to include different stakeholders within the planning process because it would not be wise to guess at where the improvements need to be. Guessing and ignoring our views is exactly how DODE went about their decision to push plan 6 on the Education Committee and to the Council. That is “shoving it down your throat” at its best.

I remember the late Dr. Bob Roessel use to advocate, “The key to improving Navajo education is an understanding that community engagement, decision-making, and reflection are integral to improving our education.”

Unfortunately, it appears members of the Education Committee and DODE don’t have a clue what that means.

It would be wise for our leaders to rethink their decision and listen to your constituents, to your BIE school parents and school employees, most of all, listen to your school board members.

I do not have to remind our leaders there is an election on the horizon and voters will know exactly how you voted and if you took the time to listen to their concerns on this issue.

I want to stress this top-down, knee-jerk decision-making is the same approach DODE is using to push the BIE transfer of authority project. Do not be fooled, this top-down approach is exactly what the Department of the Interior is doing to the Navajo Nation under the pretense of strengthening tribal sovereignty. The real motive is to remove Indian education out from the DOI and place it under the U.S. Department of Education.

It is unfortunate President Nez and Vice President Lizer, the Council, DODE, the Navajo Board of Education, and the Education Committee has not demonstrated they understand what is at stake.

It is very apparent they have failed to ask the tough “why,” “what,” “how,” and “who” questions.

Had they been paying attention and studied the implications, they could have understood the value of insuring BIE school leaders and staff are involved in the process.

Once Congress gets a hold of this, the next will be to move Indian education to the U.S. Department of Education, and eventually give all the power to the states to manage education. They will infer all this to strengthen tribal sovereignty and supports Indian self-determination. What a laugh!

It is unfortunate the manner on how this has been handled by DODE to go with plan 6 feeds into this deceitful and dishonest approach, as it appears no one up the chain of command understands what is at stake.

Donald Benally
Shiprock, N.M.


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