Council needs to overturn junk food tax veto

WINDOW ROCK, March 13, 2014

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As I sit here listening to my 6-year-old daughter read, I wonder what the future holds for her and the next generation of Navajo children.

Childhood obesity and diabetes continue to plague the Navajo Nation and American Indian communities across the United States. These negative trends among Navajo youth raise important questions for tribal communities. How will our Navajo Nation government and we, as Navajo people, work together to combat these negative trends?

Defeating diabetes and obesity will not be easy. It will take commitment, creativity, and reliance on our traditional values to solve these problems. More importantly, these issues require all of us to take a stand as we work to reclaim control of our health, wellness, diets and community well being. But we need a partner in the Navajo Nation government.

The passing of the Healthy Diné Nation Act by the Navajo Nation Council was a big step forward. The battle to prevent our kids from developing Type 2 diabetes cannot be won without the support of our tribal leaders. This legislation has a very simple approach.

First, increase access to and affordability of fresh and healthy foods sold on the reservation by removing the 5 percent sales tax on fresh fruits, vegetables, and water sold on the reservation. Second, implement a small 2 percent additional sales tax on "junk food" sold on the reservation, with revenues generated from the tax going back into Navajo communities for health and wellness programs. The two parts work together for the good of the people.

I am inspired by the grass roots movement among the Navajo people that led to this important legislation, and the Navajo Council Members who stood up to be a part of this movement. I stand with them today.

But a week after the Healthy Diné Nation Act passed, I was disappointed and discouraged to learn that this important legislation was vetoed, which sends a dangerous message that the futures of our children are for sale to outside corporate interests that have no concern for the health of the Navajo people. If we fail to maintain our sovereign identity, our children will be left to pay the consequences. This issue isn't only about a tax but also about how the citizens of the Navajo Nation want to shape the future for their children. I realize that new Navajo tax laws will not be the sole solution to an epidemic that results in the rate of diabetes being 2.3 times higher within the Navajo Nation than elsewhere in the U.S. or that 50 percent of American Indian children are projected to develop Type 2 diabetes in their lifetime based on current childhood obesity rates. But the Act represents an idea that brings together the resources and leadership of Navajo government and combines them with the best interests of the Navajo people.

The reality facing our communities is that if government and family leaders continue to ignore the childhood obesity and diabetes issue, it will ensure that some of our children will not outlive their parents. Just as my grandfather, Notah Begay Sr. and the Navajo Code Talkers played an instrumental role in winning the Pacific Theater during World War II, the Act sets us on a path forward for the Navajo people to win in the fight against diabetes and obesity and for healthier communities. It also demonstrates that the Navajo people will not sit idly by and allow their children to slide into lives of chronic disease.

It is time for our citizens and our Navajo leaders to exercise a new path of self-determination that encourages the government and its people to work together in order to find solutions to these major health problems. It is time for the Council to overturn the veto.

Notah Begay III
Professional golfer and founder
Notah Begay III Foundation

Offer to provide accounting still stands

I would like to acknowledge the Navajo Times for the story on the "Bennett Freeze accounting stalled in court" in the Feb. 20, 2014 issue.

I would like to correct the statement I am said to have made in a court hearing. I was purported to have stated to the individuals requesting accounting, which is the focus of the hearing, to join forces and get their own attorney. I did not make this statement.

The issue in the case is a request to the court to order the Navajo-Hopi Land Commission Office of the Navajo Nation to provide an accounting of the Navajo Rehabilitation Trust that it administers and manages for benefit of people and communities impacted the adverse effects of the passage of the Navajo and Hopi Land Settlement Act of 1974. The suit was filed in 2010.

Three years ago the Navajo-Hopi Land Commission Office, after being sued, worked with Navajo Nation Department of Justice and offered to provide the accounting requested in a form of a settlement. This offer still stands. The attorney who represented the original petitioners recently renewed a demand for detailed accounting of the Navajo Rehabilitation Trust Funds. This case has been prolonged due to disagreement within the petitioners that has separated into two groups.

With the current Navajo Nation administration policy of transparency, the Navajo-Hopi Land Commission Office, while respecting confidentiality protocols and immunity from claims for accounting, stands by its offer to provide accounting to the petitioners without court overview. Although the offer has not been accepted, the office has made numerous community meetings to orientate and update them on projects and issues. Not only is this offer open to the petitioners, we invite the public to examine records showing how the Navajo Rehabilitation Trust Funds is spent.

Raymond Maxx
Executive Director Navajo-Hopi Land Commission Office
Window Rock, Ariz.

Reschedule championship games

Now with the Arizona Division III State Basketball Tournament completed, our questions still remain unanswered. Hundreds of parents continue to express these important questions.

Please allow me to raise my hand, stand up and ask, "Why?" Why does the Arizona Interscholastic Association continue to schedule the Division III state basketball championship games late on Saturday evening?

Quick answer -- they want to highlight or save the best basketball games for the last part of the day. We all know our reservation teams have a large following for our talented players. It is apparent when we see hundreds of fans show up early in the morning and wait patiently for hours outside the box office ticket window just to ensure the best seating possible. Then we wait inside the arena all day for the final championship games.

Here are the concerns and I included one viable solution.

1. Safety. Thousands of northern Arizona families travel more than four hours (300 miles) to Glendale and most travel home immediately after the championship games are completed. Let's do the math. The boys' game starts at 8 p.m., and normally ends at 10 p.m. That means our families arrive home between 2 or 3 a.m. Are we concerned about their safety? Or do we need to research how many Arizona highway accidents occur during this time of the year?

2. Health. With thousands of families inside the arena waiting patiently for the championship games to begin, the only food available on the menu have been the soda, popcorn, nachos, hotdogs, hamburgers and fries, etc. Is the AIA concerned about our health? Do we need to remind the AIA about the health concerns affecting our community?

3. Celebration. Championship results would indicate our teams are usually playing in the finals. What kind of celebration options do our families have after 10 p.m.? Again, we have the same issues. The only menu options available are usually not very healthy. And we have to travel home over 300 miles. The Division I and II teams are from the Phoenix metro area and they don't have to worry about reserving a restaurant space or traveling home.

4. Seating. With thousands of fans arriving early, there is limited seating for the fans of the other division boys and girls games. How many arguments about limited seating have you seen recently?

Here is a very simple solution. Let's schedule the Division III girls and boys championship games to begin at 10 a.m. and noon. This solution would address all of these concerns. What do you think? I am just a concerned parent. Thank you.

Allen Sing
Tuba City, Ariz.

Hospital board needs to meet with community

I attended the Tsehootsooi Medical Center board meeting Feb. 21 with several community people and chapter officials. We brought out our concerns about what was happening within our hospital. We expressed concerns about the inappropriate spending of funds and requested an audit.

We are concerned about reports of actions of retaliation against employees because of recent news coverage. The hospital's human resources department is creating a hostile work environment by their actions.

Several board members said this is the first time they have heard any complaints. The board said they have been meeting all this time and no one comes to their meetings.

I challenge the board to meet with hospital employees one-on-one with the patients and the community. The board is not going to learn what is going on if they sit in their meetings behind closed doors. I urge the community to attend the next board meeting to voice your concerns about your hospital and patient care.

I see this as a great opportunity for the board to take charge and hold the hospital accountable for their actions and spending, or they can simply choose to collect their $200 and go.

This is my home. My children and grandchildren were born here and live here. The tribal council accepted the '638 funds on behalf of the Navajo people. I am the Navajo people and I want a hospital that will be here for the generations to come.

Vivian Tapahe
Fort Defiance, Ariz.

We aren't just "Indians"

In the Navajo Times article "Native Now fest: Out with old stereotypes, in with new truths" by Shondiin Silversmith, the stereotypes of Native Americans are mainly from the past, not who we are now.

Arizona State University is having a "Native Now" festival of art, performance and cultural learning about what it is to be a Native today. One way to show this during the festival was through artists and filmmakers. The main focus of the event is contemporary culture, showing how Native Americans are living now and how modern we have become with our identity, representation and political issues.

It's often said that Native Americans still live in our old ways. Yet, we've grown into a sovereign nation that is moving along with modern times. Maybe not our elders but certainly middle-aged adults, teenagers and children know about technology. It's not hard to notice that every day many Natives use cell phones, iPads, and so on. The reservation is in touch with the outside world, but we do go back to our culture for many things such as ceremonies, superstitions and remedies.

It's nice to see the filmmakers, Velma Craig and her husband Dustinn, from the article showed their work. Presenting the films "I Belong to This" which is about culture and heritage through the Craig family. Next, "In this manner, I am," a brief film of a Navajo woman meeting a non-Native starting a conversation about "Doo Diné n’shl’ida." Lastly, the "Interview with Einstein," a short comedy starring Velma's children.

To relieve the stereotypes of Native Americans we need to help people of the world see that we aren't just "Indians" who still walk around in loincloths or live in teepees. We are more than meets the eye.

The article gives an example of what we can do to show what we have become as Diné. We can stop books, artwork and articles that portray Native Americans wrong or tell fake stories rather than what's real. We could make bigger impacts on our people, especially those who copy when they have their own traditions, which are sacred and should be carried on.

Deborah L. Wauneka
Tsaile, Ariz.

We can't trust the government

In the Navajo Times article "Investigation finds no misconduct from Shirley in slush fund case," written by Bill Donovan, relates to current topic of Joe Shirley, the Navajo Nation president, and the investigation of misuse of tribal funds.

He has been found innocent after this was a huge issue with the tribe for about four years and all charges were finally dropped. Throughout the article it is stated that even though Shirley was proven innocent they will continue to do interviews, showing the uncertainty with where the Council may be taking our tribe and where it will lead our future.

This is the irresponsibility of our tribe's leadership shown. The article states that, "Shirley was not accused of benefiting personally from any use of the discretionary funds but the civil suit claimed that Shirley, as president, should have known that the program was being mismanaged and therefore he should have taken steps to make sure that the council delegates could not misuse the funds."

With this shown it's proven of how irresponsible the government is. How are we supposed to trust our government with issues like this happening?

It shows that the people who handle our money, either the delegates or president, are untrustworthy. Recently we've had problems with the delegates and Council taking and misusing our money for irrational uses. This money had to have gone somewhere. Instead they should be using it for our schools and community housings. If they want to be in control of our money then put it to good use instead of making it sit there or using it for their own personal usage.

I would have to agree with the article when stated that Shirley should have been more alert about these problems happening with the funding and the delegates. With this predicament, not only does it show that our government is unreliable, but for Shirley's sake if he considers being a supervisor for Apache County, he needs to be more aware of what's going on around him.

With these issues that have been running on since 2009 I think it's safe to say that we can't trust the government with what's happening. Our president needs to step up before he is accused of something more severe, not only for the sake of our people, but as well as for the future what's to come.

Shinowa Chee
Chinle, Ariz.

Water settlement is alive and kicking

Stanley Pollack said the Little Colorado River Settlement (LCR Settlement) is "dead" (Navajo Times, Feb. 13, 2014).

Senator Kyl's SB 2109 might be dead but the LCR Settlement is still alive and kicking. He blames the death on "social media" and "misconceptions" spread by activists without naming who they are, but we know who they are and Black Mesa Trust is one of them.

According to Pollack, "the train fell off the tracks" because of the misconceptions about Navajo Generating Station's role in the settlement agreement. "The settlement makes it very clear that the option to extend the NGS lease is just an option ..." It is not.

The U.S. Department of Interior "technical work group" agreement made it clear that the fate of NGS is tied to the water settlement (and Kayenta Mine). For example, the recitals to the TWG agreement resolution begins with, "Whereas the EPA's Proposed BART Rule states and the Parties agree as follows: 'NGS is unique because it was É to provide electricity to distribute water to tribes located in Arizona ..."

The Arizona tribes are tribes that signed the 2004 Arizona Water Settlement Act (2004 Act) to settle their claims to Gila River in return for waiving forever their superior rights to the river. It is not a water rights settlement but a municipal water use settlement among farmers, towns and cities. Big difference! Navajo Nation is a party to the 2004 act. Why? Only Pollack can explain. He needs to explain to Diné people the nature of the claim and what they gave up in return. Gila River Basin lies in southern Arizona and not in the LCR Basin. Could it be that Navajo gave up its claim to Lower Colorado River?

Under the act, Navajo is given entitlement to 6,000 acre-feet of water per year from Central Arizona Project, but it will come from San Juan River running through New Mexico.

The 2004 act was masterminded by former Senator Jon Kyl. The senator tried to use it as a model to settle tribal claims to LCR and failed. He prematurely introduced SB-2109 before the LCR settlement was approved by Navajo and Hopi councils. He did this on the assurance from Navajo President Shelly and Hopi Chairman Shingoitewa. Both leaders have legal counsels who apparently said it's OK for leaders to give the green light to Kyl to introduce his bill and now that his bill is killed Kyl probably felt betrayed.

The Hopi Tribe is not a party to the 2004 act, but was promised 1,000 AFY from Central Arizona Project should Hopi decide to become a party. How CAP water will be delivered to Hopi people is a mystery.

Without the federal government's 24.3 percent ownership of power from NGS, the cost of promised water delivery to Navajo and parties to the 2004 Act will be too expensive since power will have to come from a utility company like SRP and APS at market value. Therefore, it is in interest of federal and state governments to save NGS and to extend operation to 2044.

Yes, Kyl's bill is dead but not the "settlement." In fact, a resolution introduced by Hopi chairman and the chairman of the Hopi Energy Team to move forward with the settlement was passed by Hopi Tribal Council without public notice after the council killed the Kyl bill. The resolution has not been rescinded, so it is still in force.

Pollack, do not blame the Diné and Black Mesa Trust, blame it on yourself and President Shelly for failing to explain reasons why the "water settlement" failed. Navajo and Hopi grassroots people have painted a new political landscape, thanks to individuals who are now educated and empowered to seek and tell the truth. The good old days when leaders and their lawyers made decisions via "government to government" relationship with Hopi and Navajo political leaders and without input from grassroots people are over.

If I, an "activist," am guilty of misrepresentation, it is because I do not have access to the facts. For that I apologize.

Vernon Masayesva
Kykotsmovi, Ariz.

Junk food tax was a good idea

In the Navajo Times article titled "Junk food tax now on Shelly's table," by Alastair Lee Bitsoi, it tells that there is a big impact on the people from junk food. It is well known that all convenience stores have junk food, common snacks such as chips, candy bars and soda. Nationwide a member of a family is affected by diabetes.

According to statistics, it shows 25,000 out of 300,000 Navajos have diabetes and 75,000 are labeled as pre-diabetic. The president of the Navajo Nation, Ben Shelly, has proposed the Health Diné Act of 2013. If the president passes this, people who buy junk food will be paying a 2 percent tax. The tax would be utilized to start wellness projects for better health amongst all Navajos.

Livingston states that, "We're all affected by this dominating culture of junk food and unhealthy food."

I think this proposal is a good idea and builds forward to healthier communities. Although I believe people will continue to spend money on buying junk food versus health food, especially those that receive assistance to buy food. I disagree with how the money would be spent on building health communities by building a multi-purpose building with all recreations so people could be active and utilize the facility. I have seen buildings that have been built and in a matter of time it will be a skeletal building with graffiti infested all over.

I believe money should be invested in road repairs, local Laundromats, hotels, etc., so it will bring in good businesses for the Navajo people. My concern is people will not dedicate themselves to be healthy unless all junk food is banned for good. The people need to go back to raising their own crops and prepare assorted corn food. I know for a fact this is a big issue and it will be a long rocky road to get to what the president has envisioned.

Vernee Begay
Lukachukai, Ariz.

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