Don't pick school board members who have been around 'for years'

WINDOW ROCK,Aug. 7, 2014

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B ack to school fever has hit! There is a mixture of anxiety and excitement as we buy new books and clothes. Some are getting calls from their districts while others are already sending their kids off on the bus.

Every new school year we hold high hopes for our kids. Because high turnover plagues most rural schools there will be a whole lot of new faces teaching our students.

New teachers and principals are sometimes great, filled with new ideas and programs to improve the school. But when nothing is done about retention and consistency, these ideas or programs usually end when that innovator leaves.

In our local school district, Sanders Unified School District, the high school guidance counselors started a program to give students an opportunity to visit different colleges across the country. Currently this group has to raise over $17,000 on their own. It is a great experience for our local youth but when that teacher leaves, that program will be over. Or what happens when a new principal or superintendent comes in and the community does not like the changes being made?

School boards play an important role as elected representatives and the voice of the community. School boards decide the direction of the school district, which programs and policies are enacted and continued.

School boards allow communities to have direct input into the school district and the ability to control the direction the district takes regardless of the principal or superintendent. You can tell how active a board is by looking at how well the school is doing, the better the school, the more active the school board.

However, most of our rural school boards are run by people with no clue or interest in navigating today's education system. They don't interact with or know the issues faced by today's youth, yet they are responsible for the direction of their education.

Instead of creating the change our communities need, many school board members hold the position as nothing but a title with fancy trips, a comfy seat of prestige aspiring politicians use to fluff their resumes without achieving anything.

SUSD has had six superintendents in 11 years, is a "D" district, losing students every year while three out of five board members have sat on the board for over 20 years.

Our school boards are failing our kids because we are allowing them to. Losing good teachers is a big issue our schools face but active, engaged school boards make sure good programs and policy continue.

Our schools are bad because we allow them to be. We allow people with no idea about the issues facing our youth the most powerful and important positions within our schools. So this election year, don't pick board members that have been around "for years" in dysfunctional school districts (they aren't doing their jobs). Hold them accountable, go to school board meetings, and elect people who truly care about making our schools better. We need boards that support the community, to create communities that support their schools.

Kern Collymore
Sanders, Ariz.

In solidarity with Palestinians

Much has been said around the country about the intense, escalating conflict in the Middle East between the Israeli government and Palestinian people, and this debate does not exclude Indian Country.

Unfortunately much of what is being said against Palestinians is outright slander and, in the words of Hannah Arendt elucidating the pathology of totalitarianism, "self-deception, lies and stupidity."

Last week's issue of the Navajo Times published a letter criticizing those who criticize Israel. Aside from the letter's blatant lies and distortions (I mean, yes, Navajos are matrilineal- based people, but what does Israel have to do with that? How did Jews, specifically, teach Navajos everything that composes our culture? Jewish emigration to the U.S. didn't really take shape until the mid-20th century and even then they mainly populated metropolitan cities in the U.S.), the author escalates the absurdity by generalizing all Palestinians as barbaric jihadist Muslims.

This is assimilation to colonialist thinking at its finest and that was sad to see. Those who write off the Palestinian population as nothing but "terrorist Muslims" reveal themselves to be ignorant on this issue, thus invalidating any thoughts they may have regarding this situation.

Many chose to pick apart the words and actions of Hamas and the armed resistance of repressed Palestinians. And that is fine. But the Israeli government (the occupying power) should be held to the same scrutiny.

Also what people often overlook, regarding this conflict, is the socio-historical context of the situation. The anger and resistance of factions of the Palestinian people do not take place in a vacuum, devoid of any history. Israel is illegally occupying Palestinian land and Israel's settlement expansion has been condemned by the United Nations as a violation of international law.

When your people have been pushed off their land by brute force and relegated to small pockets of land (the Gaza Strip is 25 miles wide and about seven miles long, yet houses 1.8 million people) where you deal with the arbitrary unjust force of the occupying power, when you're marginalized to horrid living conditions where access to food and water and supplies is restricted at random and the international community is indifferent to your plight, how else do you expect people to respond but with crude weapons and violence?

I do not condone Hamas' rocket attacks. They do constitute war crimes, but this is the rock-and-a-hard place situation ("Do nothing and die? Or do something and die?") the Palestinian people find themselves in and it is a condition the Israeli government has imposed on the people.

At this point, with schools and hospitals and United Nations shelters in Gaza bombed (not to mention the Palestinian children that have been fired at and blown to pieces while playing on a beach or at a playground), it is not an exaggeration to say that Israel is a racist, apartheid terror state.

Support for Israel means, concomitantly, support for these inhumane acts and war crimes. You can count me out of that. I am on the side of peace, in solidarity with Palestinians and Jews and all like-minded pro-peace, pro-justice peoples of the world who are calling for Israel to obey international law and respect the human rights and dignity of Palestinians. I encourage you to stand with me.

Kirbie Bennett
Shiprock, N.M.

Draft procedures for grazing, land-use permits is flawed

Recently BIA completed its draft standard operating procedures for Navajo grazing permit and agricultural land-use permit system through a bilagáana contractor without the tribe's involvement or consultation.

Speaking for Navajo permit holders and land users, we are concerned about many issues in the 92-page document of which six of them are: 1. The draft states, "BIA Navajo Region developed these SOP and Guidelines" when the work was done by a Colorado white contractor. BIA have specialists with range science degrees and years of experience working with grazing permit holders and grazing committees on land issues to do the work themselves.

Why ask outside non-Navajo contractors to copy the draft SOP started 10 years ago. It's absurd to see BIA using our tax money this way 2. BIA failed to carry out presidential Executive Order 13175, government-to-government relation policy. BIA did not involve or consult grazing committee's prior to contracting the work to Ecosphere Environmental Services. BIA's failure on this issue is obvious abuse of authority at Navajo Region.

3. Among many questionable issues in Ecosphere's draft SOP I am concerned about only one. Appendix A, Grazing Permit Processing Checklist, does not cover land management issues needed to ensure rangeland is not overused with too many permits in one area.

Fort Defiance Agency has allowed excessive sheep units when approving grazing permit transfer agreement that led to land disputes and land degradation. But BIA blames the permittees and grazing official's recommended actions.

4. Appendix A checklist does not list anything for BIA to comply with 25 CFR 167.6 (b) (c) to do range assessment and field investigations in collaboration with grazing officials to justify why more livestock is going into deteriorated rangeland and why consent of affected permit holders are neglected.

5. BIA has approved grazing permit TA requests for permittees with mental conditions or those confined in nursing homes. Appendix A does not show someone with legal authority to determine mental capacity of individuals in nursing homes whose thumb prints were accepted by BIA as legal transactions.

6. Appendix A states BIA's requirement for livestock owners to write their own grazing conservation plan. BIA nation-wide manual directs BIA to prepare a management plan for all grazing units in collaboration with permit holders. BIA takes care of administering the permitting system.

We, livestock producers, manage the business side of livestock operations and should not do BIA's job. BIA should not dictate to us on writing grazing conservation plan. Writing conservation plans are responsibilities of specialists with range science degrees, not technicians, livestock owners, or land users.

BIA Navajo Region worked on drafting SOP for the last 10 years. Fort Defiance Agency attempted to develop the SOP for the agency in 2003. I served as the agency resource manager in 2000 to 2005. It was my recommendation to BIA Navajo Region to implement the SOP for the whole region, except Eastern Navajo Agency.

At the May 15 agency grazing committee meeting, Calvert Curley, acting regional natural resource specialist, reported that I failed to complete the SOP. I started the draft SOP before I left the program at Fort Defiance Agency in 2005 and assigned Jerome Willie, agency range specialist, to complete the draft. He has a range science degree and 30-plus years experience working at Fort Defiance Agency.

So it was he who failed to complete it, Mr. Curley. In fact, Harold Russell, James Dee, and Calvert Curley, all professionals at the region over the years, failed to draft the SOP in over 10 years.

Yes, BIA deals with budget cuts and limited staff. Mr. Willie and others might get something done if they get to work on time. Remember, taxpayers pay your salaries.

In fact, our tax money spent on contracting the work to bilagáanas could have went to hiring college students to assist with writing conservation plans or to the tribe for its Rangeland Improvement Act proposal.

Despite these complaints, BIA has not offered a rebuttal to prove me wrong.

Nels Roanhorse
Oakridge, Ariz.

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