Tuesday, July 23, 2024

Letters | What is your personal relationship to water, governor?

When I was a little girl, younger than 10 years old, my Diné cousins and my sister and I would scramble up the red rocks in Bááháálí to a beautiful remote setting we thought of as our secret stream.

There we, all members of the Tódích’íi’nii, or Bitter Water Clan, would float and splash, play and swim, and even drink from the stream. That’s how clean it was.

It was the most wonderful thing to be wet and rambunctiously wild as children can be, in our element, sharing that enlivening bond with the water.

Not long ago my cousins told me that our special place no longer exists, it’s all dried up. The news landed like a sucker punch and I haven’t fully processed the loss.

I’ve not yet returned there to stare at the void where once, pinching our noses, we’d hold our breath underwater counting the seconds on our fingers, where we’d twirl like joyful sea otters staying submerged until our shivering lips turned purple blue.

What did I do with the hurt from the news? I threw it on the mounting pile of compounding losses.

My mother’s home is now without potable water. The community well needs repair but not everyone has the funds to contribute to fixing it. We lug the big blue bottles to her, but it’s hard.

On my dad’s land, the water is still there, but it covers a much smaller area than in the past, and we wonder with a growing pit of anxiety in our gut how much longer he’ll be able to water the livestock.

From within this reality of chronic hassle and nagging worry, it’s been shocking to learn that the governor’s signature on a piece of legislation introduced this session is a sneaky and fanciful scheme to spring a “Hydrogen Hub” on us without ever once asking any of us what our priorities are — safe storage of coal ash, cleaning up uranium tailings, plugging abandoned oil and gas wells, or a just transition to wind and solar under local control.

How many people sick right now don’t have access to clean water to aid their recovery from the Delta and Omicron infections? Has the governor even posed the question?

She knows that hydrogen production is not clean, that it requires not only vast amounts of water but fracked gas, which is also an enormously water intensive process that forever removes fresh water from the hydrology cycle.

She also knows that no one in her own administration, not even the state’s water engineer (who just resigned in protest), can quantify our existing water resources.

The legislators who are pushing the hydrogen agenda have explicitly stated in HB 4, the Hydrogen Act, that hydrogen production will be allowed first and years after increasing emissions poison us the government shall “promulgate rules that consider and address the implications for greenhouse gas emissions resulting from the generation and use of hydrogen in New Mexico” (Section 18C).

Seems backwards.

Who benefits from acting out of this outrageous ignorance other than NMOGA and the politicians whose campaigns it lavishly funds?

Until we can answer how much water we have, we do not know how long it would last with or without a hydrogen hub. It’s painfully obvious that the legislature cannot act in good faith to approve hydrogen.

I am so tired of leaders who gain their positions with our help, who return the favor by treating us terribly. Who ignore and dehumanize us, leaving us thirsty and dry, while our dreams for a livable future in our desert home die on an ever-withering vine.

Leoyla Cowboy
Laguna, N.M.

Is it time for private land ownership?

The recent Feb. 3 Permanent Trust Fund meeting held by the Budget and Finance Committee was an eye-opener.

They had discussions about projects that were put on the funding schedule, but to date, no funds expended. And there were projects that were held up because of the lack of land acquisition.

This is concerning and frustrating.

The Shiprock hotel is on a five-year plan that was being handed off like a hot potato. From talks of the BIA still needing to hand over the land in 2019 to additional funding needed to begin the project and the fear of the hotel being in a flood plain, which would increase the overall cost of the project.

Why do projects like this take years? I’ve seen the city of Page construct multiple hotels at the same time. The giant nation is struggling with one.

The C-store in Crownpoint had its own challenges for moving forward. Although the project is expected to begin construction in the spring, the owner/investor, Alvin Thompson, made a comment that prompted this letter. He said, “We (business owners) will never own these buildings.”

Further, he mentioned that the Navajo Nation wants the business owner to invest their own dollars into a facility that they will never own.

I found that disturbing or at least concerning simply because that is not fair. Why should the Navajo Nation benefit when business owners aren’t allowed to own any of the buildings or infrastructure they build?

Hence, we need a path for land ownership on the Navajo Nation.

The average mobile home owner that purchases a home and places it on Navajo Nation land does this with the fact that the mobile home will never gain home equity, so the moment that mobile home enters the Navajo Nation, that home begins to depreciate and lose its value. The homeowners have to spend their own dollars to fix any improvement or maintenance issues.

You may ask what is home equity? This is the homeowner’s interest in a home. The value of the equity has the potential to increase in value over time as the homeowner pays down the home loan.

If placed off-reservation, that mobile home could be placed on private land that was purchased by the homeowner. This would create a scenario that builds equity and a nest egg for the homeowner.

When the homeowner decides to improve the home, they can use the home equity to borrow to make those improvements and keep the home in good standing.

If the homeowner wants to sell then the homeowner will come away with the equity when the home is sold. That would allow the homeowner to use those dollars to purchase a new home or however they want to use it.

On the Navajo Nation, that scenario is not possible. You cannot purchase a piece of property. The Navajo laws don’t allow it. This is a problem. The lack of land ownership is a deterrent for young people and their families.

The grazing permit is also a contributor to the challenges of land ownership, but we’ll save that for another submission.

For potential small business owners or investors, there is not enough incentive for them to invest hundreds of thousands of dollars of their own money on the Navajo Nation for a facility they will never own or have the ability to sell.

Yet, the Navajo Nation leadership tells them to build for the benefit of the Navajo people. “You’re doing it for the people” is the message.

They don’t tell them it will take years and most of their money. Then at the end of it all, they don’t own the facility…the nation does.

These business owners incur debt that sometimes amounts to millions of dollars. The average person gets concerned when our credit card hits the $1,000 credit limit.

Yet it seems the Navajo Nation seems unwilling to fix the system. We have lawmakers that could create policies that are favorable to business owners or investors, but to date, there has been no improvement. Just the same system that seeks to take and take with no benefit to business owners.

There is a lack of sympathy for business owners that seek to create more revenue for themselves. Folks like that seem to be labeled as “greedy” when they should be applauded for wanting to be financially independent and willing to put in the work.

The Navajo Nation’s elected leadership should implement a path for land ownership. If you feel that same way then you should question your delegate about the possibility. After all, they are the lawmakers.

These ideas and comments are my own and are not reflective of my employer.

Jarvis Williams
Kayenta, Ariz.

A revealing financial analysis

Kudos! Mr. Jarvis Williams’ letter “Who will give us a better economy?” (Navajo Times, Jan. 20, 2022) is an absolutely revealing analysis of the Dineh Nation’s finances at present before the 2022 Dineh Nation general election.

Mr. Williams compares the GDP (gross domestic product) values of the four states adjoining the Dineh Nation — did not include the Dineh Nation’s GDP as there is none — listed in a Forbes magazine article (Aug. 4, 2021).

For the impending candidates’ promises in this year’s Dineh Nation election, Mr. Williams asks a simple question: Who will give us a better economy? Very apropos and quite smart. Again, kudos.

The GDP comparisons are valid, yet sadly revealing. But then again, it must be acknowledged that the neighboring states all have state constitutions, which govern all financial transactions. The Dineh Nation has clan systems, but no Dineh Nation Constitution.

In the 1990 Dineh Nation preliminary election, I ran as one of 14 candidates. I campaigned for seven weeks on a budget of $1,900 of supporter donations.

I ran on the campaign slogan FOCUS — Family, Opportunities, Constitution, Unity, and Schools.

I received 6% of the vote even though the eventual winner — my clan-son, Mr. Peterson Zah, whose father is Táchii’nii — announced at several forums I was unable to attend with the following statement: “Don’t waste your vote on Tacheeni Scott. Do you want a white woman to be first lady of the Dineh Nation?”

In 1968, I married a green-eyed Scottish woman of the Hendry Clan, Elgin, Scotland. My grandmother said she is of the Tábąąhá (Water’s Edge Clan) as she grew up, not in Scotland, but in California.

Back to the issue at hand. Mr. Jarvis is not only an intelligent and politically-alert and well-read individual. In addition, he is a compassionate and caring person.

I have first-hand information: I live 16.5 miles north of Flagstaff, just off of Highway 89 and I ride my bicycle to town often as my wife would have the car at either Dolores, Colorado (our son’s home) or our mountain cabin northwest of Iddylwild, California.

Just last week I was caught in a violent windy snowstorm at night trying to get home by pushing my bike along the highway. Mr. Williams and his family stopped and loaded my bike onto the rear of their SUV and gave me a much-needed ride to my home. Then, the following week I read his excellent letter in the Navajo Times.

I wish to submit Jarvis Williams’ nomination for the 2022 Dineh Nation presidential election. Mr. Williams would make a fantastic president who would advocate for a Dineh Nation Constitution and a DGP system for the Dineh Nation.

A lot of personal insight is foundational to serving all Dineh people, even those who live within 20 miles of the rez border.

Tacheeni Scott
Flagstaff, Ariz.

New book is example of cultural appropriation

I address this letter to the Navajo public concerning cultural appropriation and indigenous intellectual property in our Native communities. Also, discussion of the Navajo culture as a primary source for educators, researchers, students, and other interested individuals.

In the latest issue of the Navajo Times (Thursday, Feb. 3, 2022) an article authored by Andrew Gulliford was printed titled, “Told through the eyes of its residents’ — Stories from the land; A Navajo reader about Monument Valley,” a new publication by Robert McPherson, a professor at Utah State University-Blanding.

I find the publication of this article and promotion of Navajo cultural knowledge written from the perspective of a non-Navajo person problematic.

By presenting Navajo culture that has been taken by a non-Navajo, who in turn is making money from the knowledge, is in a way a promotion of cultural appropriation.

The article was written by infamous Fort Lewis College professor of history, Andrew Gulliford, who is also a non-Native educator and author.

Like Mr. Gulliford, Robert McPherson has also written several books about Navajo culture. McPherson, who is a resident of Utah, seems to have become an “expert” on our culture and is easy to publish his “found” knowledge.

I understand we, as citizens of the USA, are free to do what we want and write what we want, but I also understand the need for boundaries specifically cultural boundaries, which include sacred concepts and traditional knowledge based on ceremonial narrative.

I truly believe in the act of seeking out primary sources for knowledge, and I hope that our Dine’ scholars and students are using primary sources such as their family of K’e’, i.e., their parents, grandparents, uncles, aunties, and other Navajo educators to get cultural knowledge. Our Dine’ intellectual property is so vital, and we as Dine’ should daily work to protect it and ensure that it is not pirated by non-Navajos who want to take and use the knowledge to fuel the ego.

Recently many people have been alerted to the concept of “pretendians,“ those who are non-Native/non-indigenous who want to live a false life claiming to be “Indian.”

Last month social media “star” Corinne Perera, aka Corinne Grey Cloud, who had over 100,000 TikTok followers and 40,000 Instagram followers, claimed to have Mohawk and Lakota heritage, but is of Indonesian descent. Problematic because in her identity crisis she was profiting big in her “pretendian” status. I mention her because she is like-minded in the fact of taking Native/indigenous culture and gaining from it.

I mention this recent “pretendian” because her actions are similar to the past work and actions of Dr. Andrew Gulliford who wrote the article the Navajo Times printed about McPherson’s book. Perera and Gulliford both took and used Native/indigenous cultural knowledge for their own personal monetary gain.

I, as an alumnus of Fort Lewis College (graduated in 2001), am very much observant of Dr. Andrew Gulliford. He is another non-Native educator who has been accused of culturally appropriating the intellectual property rights of Native students at Fort Lewis College.

In 2000, Dr. Gulliford published, “The Kokopelli conundrum; lessons learned from teaching Native American students” in the American Studies International Journal (June/October 2004) issue.

A work he wrote included confidential Native American traditional stories and knowledge they shared with him as students in his classroom, and that he later used in his own research without their permission.

Navajo people, please be aware of these “coyotes” who approach our nation to observe, research, photograph, or work within our communities. In many cases non-Native indigenous scholars/researchers are good of heart, but there are those who only pretend and steal our ancestral knowledge. Stay vigilant!

Venaya Yazzie
Tota’, N.M.

Bluff Road still needs work

With regard to the Bluff Road (NR542) in Shiprock, my concern continues. For the past several months this road has not been graded, making the road even rougher.

Now, the Bluff Road remains in the same condition it has been in for over a year. The rocks are sticking up even more and there is a washboard effect making travel almost impossible.

The Bluff Road project was scheduled more than five years prior and was never started. There are many outstanding projects from the old chapter administration and continue to remain dormant in the new term of the current Shiprock Chapter officials.

Recently, I inquired about the process of requesting roadwork and was given a form to fill out. On the form there was a fee required for the grader operator, as well as the location of the road maintenance and name of requestor. I was surprised to discover that a public road needs to be paid for ($79.50 per hour!).

My stand is to speak out about getting the Bluff Road fixed permanently and not temporarily with broken promises by individuals who influence decisions. Who runs the Shiprock Chapter anyway?

A certain Shiprock Chapter official drives on the Bluff Road in a private vehicle, as well as a work vehicle. Currently, the Bluff Road remains in the same condition it has been in for several years. The rocks are sticking up even more and there is a washboard effect making travel almost impossible.

Now is the time for the Shiprock Chapter officials to practice safety and complete the projects to clean up Shiprock.

Wilford R. Joe
Shiprock, N.M.

Grasping for ‘normalcy,’ world fades

It seems, as we desperately yearn and grasp to recapture our so-called “normalcy” of daily life, the world we knew seems to slowly fade.

At times our extreme anxiety and stubbornness only discount and neglect the life-saving protocols that keep us and others alive. Then there are those who resist, as they voice concepts they do not understand — the dominant society’s version of illusions of rights and freedom of this and that.

Going full circle, our ignorance towards health-safety precautions and protocols only prolongs our agony, as confirmed with daily viral infection statistics.

Whether we know it or not, we seem to know no other approaches to resolve our dilemma so our “normalcy” is still our nature. As we look upon our perceived world, we still experience the desecrations and devastations from those unconscious of their innate. Notice how the violence flows from self to the external boundaries of our environmental realm.

Come on, who are we kidding? Yes, as money-minded, overly conditioned, and overly stimulated indigenous, we bestow “sacredness” only on our pick-and-choose things that serves us personally.

Perhaps Mother Earth, nature and our cultural deities are telling us that we have bitten off more than we could chew. To state it bluntly, we are now choking on our own arrogance, ignorance and laziness. To name two, such as evident in our selfishness and mistreatment of others through directed hand seizures and trash that continues to litter the ground we walk on.

And at the moment, our “resilience” is only keeping us alive without onward movement. Yes, right now, whatever ideas we may put forth, all we have are pipedreams of wishful thinking without putting forth the effort.

Could this be because we are constantly harassed with “my-way-or-the-highway” mentality from those who possess no real knowledge or insights into our social issues?

It is just a mere moneymaking guessing game to them. If they did, our social concerns would be lessened or resolved and we would all be smiling, feeling relieved.

Let us admit it to ourselves, unless we have real connections in communication, compromise, cooperation, coordination, cohesive, comprehensive, and calm, we can express virtues that could build our society greater and better than ourselves.

This could be an age of a reawakening of real humans with reverence to our environment. Only then can the new normal be an approach our social ills with new insights, ideas, valid initiatives, and new discoveries.

Robert L. Hosteen
Beclabito, N.M.

Help redesign Utah state flag

I’m writing as a former resident of the Navajo Nation, living there for a time as a middle-school-aged child in Tuba City, as the son of a government worker.

So, although I don’t live in the area, and I’m a Bilagáana, I have the people in mind and love promoting Navajo culture when I can.

It’s come to my attention that the state of Utah is changing their state flag. Their redesign has kept the traditional beehive symbol in its center and many who live in Utah would love to see that changed.

The beehive symbol comes from a word, which was used in the Book of Mormon, “Deseret,” which is supposed to mean “honeybee.” Many believe this is anachronistic because honeybees didn’t exist in America before Columbus.

The state of Utah is accepting flag redesign submissions and I would love to see a redesign with a Navajo hogan in place of the beehive.

Navajos inhabited the land of Utah as semi-nomadic tribes long before the Mormons came to settle.

The hogan is a symbol for all of us to remember where our home is, to remember where we came from, our heritage (good and bad). A hogan on the Utah state flag would be a powerful symbol to share and honor the Diné.

Robert Pearson
Pittsburgh, Penn.


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