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Letters: What is going on at NHA?

What is going on over at Navajo Housing Authority? An alleged photo of male genitalia, whistleblowers fired, employment lawsuits, CEO investigated then resigned under pressure, and more shocking is board members paying themselves monthly stipends of $4,000.

This calls for immediate action!

Former Navajo President Russell Begaye removed us two years ago saying that his hand-picked, professional and highly-qualified educated board would turn the organization around. We tried to explain to him what we have done and instead he sent his daughter and investigators after us with a bogus audit that has never materialized to date. Yet now, this “professional” board that he and the former Council delegates put so much faith in have taken advantage of their positions, raided the NHA treasury, showed little-to-no progress on housing development, set the stage for a new investigation by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, and brought more shame and embarrassment to the NHA and the Navajo people.

The current NHA board is chaired by a student who is the leader of a Tempe heavy metal band that managed a music store for over 20 years. The rest of the board is made up of a former NHA employee, a grant school employee, and a civil engineer who travels 1,250 miles (one way) to attend board meetings (remember, his travel is reimbursed). One member, an accountant, has quit and vowed to return only a portion of board stipends.

Only one member of the board has experience working with the Navajo Nation government and its complex regulations and politics for land use and housing, but is actively participating in the unethical conduct of the board.

This board does not reflect the beliefs and values of the Navajo people: Maybe one speaks Navajo and three out of five do not live on the reservation. The board must reflect the people it serves, the current NHA board does not connect to the every-day Navajo seeking housing on the reservation.

Two years have passed and, according to recent federal reports on NHA’s annual performance, they have nothing to show in new construction. More shocking, when they learned CEO Dougall sent X-rated photos on his business cellphone, they protected this non-Indian and fired the Navajo senior staff who were victimized and reported the vulgar incident.

These actions show that the real problem is this so-called “professional” board hand-picked by Russell Begaye. Their arrogance, inexperience and blatant disregard to federal and tribal laws have placed the organization decades behind in the progress it was making.

One of NHA’s biggest challenges is that Congress, fueled by concerns from other tribes, wants to reduce or stop federal housing funds to the Navajo Nation. The recent actions of the current board have not only compromised NHA’s reputation to Congress, but they have made us an easy target by those tribes who want our federal housing dollars.

Before we were forced out and unjustly blamed for the long-standing troubles, we were turning things around. Under the leadership of Aneva Yazzie, we were making significant progress. We supported her in executing an aggressive building campaign, the federal reports will show that since 2011 there were more than 700 new housing units built, and another 1,200 older and deteriorated units were rebuilt so that families could have the luxury of a new home.

Compare this to NHA’s recent performance report (2018) that shows little to no progress. The current board bragged that the new CEO Dougall would fix everything and jumpstart massive housing development, but nothing materialized. It took them 18 months to recruit and hire Dougall, and he lasted only six months.

So, the real questions are: Where is our tribal Council leadership? Where is Jonathan Nez? They have the power to appoint a new board. They need to clean up this mess and restore integrity and dignity for the sake of the Navajo people.

Ervin Chavez
Former Board Chair
Nageezi, N.M.
(Also from former NHA board members Lula Begay and Kenneth Chester)

2 elections marred by chaos

The Navajo Nation tries to maintain a credible identity and it struggles to meet the needs and expectations of its people.

Recently, two consecutive tribal elections have been marred by chaotic and costly consequences and challenges by political candidates. In 2014, the chief justice made court decisions to overrule the Office of Hearing and Appeals, stop an ongoing election, oust an independent board of election supervisors, and overrule the Navajo Nation Council and the president.

He altered the election agenda in order to dismiss a most qualified presidential candidate. Suggested remedies by the Navajo Nation’s Department of Justice were unheeded.

The Navajo Voters Coalition coordinated to challenge the decisions of the chief justice. Volunteers went to local chapters to gain over 70 resolutions to oppose the schemed court orders of the chief justice who has had no historical record of ever having passed a state legal bar examination.

With the chapter resolutions, the Navajo Nation Council legislated to fire the chief justice, but hours before the Council took action, the chief justice quit and left with a six-digit annual pension account. There was no Judicial Conduct Commission in place as a recourse to oversee the actions of the chief justice.

The coalition moved and succeeded to change the language fluency requirement for presidential candidates so that young candidates can run for president in future elections.

In 2018, the election director did not order enough voter ballots. When the election commenced about 15 percent of the chapters ran out of ballots. Many voters were disenfranchised of their voting rights at the local precincts and Council and local candidates were denied a legitimate outcome. The election was flawed and the administrative errors caused dissatisfaction in the election process. The quagmire brought voter despair and many people lost trust and confidence in the voting setup.

The people assume that the nation has a three-branch government with a system of checks and balances, and laws, regulations, policies and practices where no individual is above the law. The government and the leaders are criticized for ineffectiveness, and attempts are made to improve operations and install integrity in the overall setup, but abuse of processes and corruption continue to cloud any efforts to clean up things.

Events continue to happen without any effective avenue for the grassroots people to have a constructive say. This ineffective process offers no real measure of improvement and progress that demonstrate to the voters that the voting system is trustworthy.

The branches of government run isolated from each other without any visible joint accomplishments that show progress or advancement in meeting adequate services for societal needs of the people. The wrongdoings of tribal leaders are not righted and some walk away with benefits instead.

However, the people continue to hope that the next election will bring in honest and dependable leaders. Within this political environment, an all-volunteer planning committee has put together an agenda to hold a coalition summit at Diné College on Saturday, June 8. Speakers were recruited to talk about the voters coalition efforts, the power of the Native American vote, impacts in county, state and federal elections, voter registration and purging, clean elections and voter education, rural addressing impacts on voter registration and elections, special elections, initiatives and referendums, and how to change election laws. The coalition agency representatives will give reports and a public question-and-comment session will occur for public input.

Visit and agency Facebook pages for more information. The public is invited and please inform interested people to attend the summit.

Steven C. Begay
Navajo Voters Coalition
St. Michaels, Ariz.

‘Vulture’ carbon credit companies

What are Navajo Nation Resource Division and vulture carbon credit companies planning with our forests?

During the Navajo Nation Sustainability Symposium held in Flagstaff, from April 29 to May 1, two presentations about forest carbon credits were made by John Cataldi from the Native American Venture Fund. Carbon credits involve heavily polluting fossil fuel companies (examples are Chevron, Shell and BHP Billiton) paying money to forest owners, like Navajo Nation, who then enter into a contract to regulate and restrict uses of their forestlands — usually for 100 years — allowing the polluting companies to claim “carbon credits” so they can avoid reducing their emissions from their own operations.

On the surface, these schemes are sold as a “green” and win-win solution for forests and carbon credit sellers like the Navajo Nation. But these are binding technical, legal and financial contracts that usually require a century-long commitment. The long-term costs and benefits, including actual carbon reduction, are far from certain.

The Navajo public had a lot of questions of Mr. Cataldi, most of which were never answered. Some of these questions were about basic information, such as where exactly — in which chapters — Navajo Nation is planning to site these projects.

Cataldi kept using the term “commercial forests.” He did not seem to understand that Navajo people live in their forestlands. The last time Navajo Nation tried to turn trees into cash resulted in no cash and a complete disaster for our forestlands and communities.

One audience member asked how economically competitive Navajo forests could be when larger, more abundant forests in Canada have entered the carbon market. The reply was vague and not very convincing, but this is an important question.

A budget shortfall has arrived for Navajo Nation due to its lack of planning and overdependence on revenue from coal. Now the snake oil salesmen are at the door, knowing full well the nation’s vulnerability. Despite these sales pitches, carbon credit plans are no dream come true. There are plenty of studies available about the harmful effects of these schemes for indigenous people and lands, in the U.S., as well as internationally. Indigenous Environmental Network has gathered some of this information in its NoREDD campaign.

To begin with, setting aside lands for carbon offsets requires fencing off the targeted lands and restricts uses of that forest, which could include restricting traditional uses like herb gathering or community uses like gathering firewood. In South America, indigenous people have been completely removed from their forestlands, but thanks to contract loopholes and lax enforcement, timber mills, mining, oil and gas companies have all the access they want.

During Mr. Cataldi’s presentation, people asked how Native nations within the states are faring with their carbon offset projects, and this was never answered.

I am not saying the worst-case scenario will happen on Navajo Nation, but a carbon-offset project is a serious commitment that needs to be fully detailed and understood.

Most important, people living in forest areas must give their fully informed consent.

Some of the negative aspects of a carbon-offset project that needs to be ironed out involve tribes agreeing to a waiver of sovereign immunity, and restrictions of land development of any kind within the designated project site. Additionally, some Native nations who have signed carbon-offset contracts ran into problems years later because they did not keep good records. Furthermore, indigenous forest management and scientific data are compromised when outside companies take control.

Payments from the carbon market are made in one lump sum (not an annual payment), resulting in huge commissions for brokers, but if the carbon offsets fall short of targets over the 100 years, recipients like the Navajo Nation must pay back the difference. Yet these investments have not been around long enough to establish any kind of predictability.

What is predicted is drought and climate change. The health of our forests play a crucial role in the health of our watersheds. Our forests have enough to deal with over the next 100 years.

Or we could follow Mr. Cataldi’s advice and fill our mountains with genetically modified trees. According to his presentation statement, GMO trees grow abnormally fast, but nobody from Navajo Nation seems to be thinking about what introducing GMO trees to our forests, watersheds, and our sacred mountains would do. There is research on the dangers of genetically modified trees, but all we heard about in Flagstaff were new sawmills and quick cash.

Yes, he mentioned the addition of a sawmill and several mobile sawmills, too. It was obvious that this salesman has no understanding of the science of trees, forests, responsible forest management — nor any knowledge of Navajo history, and the history of our forests and communities.

The idea of big money from carbon offsets, “money for nothing,” has been kicking around the president’s office and the Navajo Forestry Department for several years. At a Budget and Finance Committee meeting in 2016, another proposal involving a company called Finite Carbon ran out of steam when their representative stated that because of the size, composition and location of Navajo forestlands, they would be unsuitable for carbon offset investments.

So why is Navajo Nation still trying to keep Native American Venture Fund interested in our forests? Here is a clue: In Flagstaff last week, John Cataldi mentioned his contact with Navajo Nation was a man named Steve Gunderson. Gunderson is the chairman of Navajo Transitional Energy Company, which bought Navajo Mine from BHP Billiton, a fossil fuel company that’s big in carbon credit markets. Again, what these markets really do is provide a way for fossil fuel companies to buy their way out of cutting back on their emissions.

Please remember this: If Navajo Nation were persuaded to sign off on this strange deal, the real cost would be on those of us who live and maintain connection to our forests.

We need answers from our delegates and the Natural Resource Division. I am not aware that any of our chapters have been informed of a carbon-offset project in our forestlands. This is not the answer to nation’s budget problems, any more than the NGS-NTEC deal was. The transition away from coal needs to be a smart, conscientious, just, equitable, sustainable, and regenerative one that does not sacrifice more of our communities and resources for the sake of short-term monetary gain for a very select few.

Robyn Jackson
Wheatfields, Ariz.

Native veterans memorial ready, but needs funds

I am the founder of National Native American Veterans Memorial Establishment Act of 1994. My maternal clan is Zuni White Corn Edgewater, born for paternal clans Manygoats.

For three decades the initiative ongoing is to establish the National Native American Veterans Memorial sculpture statue to be erected in Washington, D.C., honoring Native American veterans. I lobbied for Public Law 103-384, the memorial act, but no funding was provided and Mr. Karl Kendall, a sculptor from Prescott, Arizona, has a bronze scale model of a proposed memorial entitled “Native Warrior” of a Native American soldier dressed in military attire and adorned with an arrowhead strung with his dog tags around its neck and a feather tied to his M-16 rifle to show his ties to his Native culture.

And I have not raised enough funds to have an eight-foot sculpture erected in Washington. The local tribes (Navajo, Zuni, Apache and Hopi) are in support of the National Congress of the American Indians to have a similar design of Mr. Karl Kendall’s sculpture set up in the entrance of the Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial in Washington.

The late U.S. Sen. John McCain forwarded a letter and design of “Native Warrior” to NCAI for consideration in February 1995 and currently there is no organization or committee with a similar plan.

I stand up to inform the public for what I believe in. I was giving a lot of my own time and energy to seeing my dreams of having a national Native memorial become real. I spent much of my free time riding through the country around the Navajo five agencies/reservation, telling people about my idea. They said, “It would not work if you’re doing this all alone” and “It’s not going to work for you” they told me.

To date, I continue to share my ideas with anyone who listens and eventually through my own commitment and dedication to veterans, using my own resources and found two Anglo people who believed in my initiative. The U.S. Congress had to pass a bill giving permission for a memorial to be built in the District of Columbia and on Oct. 22,1994, President William (Bill) Clinton signed it into law. The contest is open for a memorial design and a group of architects, sculptors and designers will be chosen as judges to pick the winners.

I hope our “Native Warrior” memorial design will be chosen as the winner through competition. Many Native veterans from various communities have contributed their support, ideas and influence. We hope to get as much contributing funding sources on board to meet the goal. This project is going to be a success and is a ready project.

Floyd Dawson
Tonalea, Ariz.

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