Nez: NTEC deliberately created to be independent
The previous Navajo Nation Council created Navajo Transitional Energy Company so politics wouldn’t interfere with the Nation’s pursuit of energy independence, President Jonathan Nez told the 24th Navajo Nation Council during his state of the nation address Monday.
Speaking during the first day of the fall session, Nez was questioned about NTEC and its acquisition of the Cloud Peak Energy mines in Wyoming and Montana.
“They were granted certain authority,” said Nez of NTEC, an enterprise of the tribe. “Maybe if they did it right they would have a good standing.”
Nez has stated before that he was left in the dark when it came to NTEC’s purchase of the three coal mines from a bankrupt company. Nez did not include NTEC in his report, but did answer questions.
Budget and Finance Committee member Amber Crotty said although she is appreciative of Nez’s speech, she had wanted to hear information on NTEC and other enterprises.
“That is something literally missing … what is happening with enterprises in terms of where do they move forward with some of these acquisitions?” said Crotty.
“I remind all enterprises the goal is to separate politics from business,” she said. “But if you were created here by Council and signed into law by the president, maybe we need to reevaluate how we create these enterprises, and how the board is accountable to the people, and how the shareholders provide that information.”
Before he gave his report, the Council voted to add to its agenda an emergency bill to terminate NTEC’s general indemnity agreements.
Although the issue of NTEC did start a discourse, lawmakers also questioned other issues that they felt needed attention from Nez. Delegate Carl Slater questioned the recent closure of the Chinle airstrip due to asphalt deterioration and said this closure is unacceptable.
“I cannot stress just how important for DOT and the administration to get this going again,” said Slater. “It’s the busiest airport on the Nation. The primary users are emergency evacuations from our IHS facilities in order to take better care of our citizens.”
Due to the weather they will speed the repairs needed for the airstrip but this will only be a temporary fix. In 2022, the Nation will be receiving grants that will go toward fixing the airport completely, said Nez.
Delegate Paul Begay said regarding tourism that after reading that Antelope Point is considered one of the top tourist destinations in the region, he wondered how Navajo, especially Western Agency, can capitalize on this rather than losing out to border towns such as Page.
“This would be the time to get the whole Navajo Nation support, president support, legislative and even justice support to help Western Navajo grow,” said Begay. “Page is getting all the dollars that the tourists bring in. We need restaurants, culture centers, and hotels on our side so we can grow. We need a major plan to be put into place over there.”
One possibility is for the Navajo Nation is to have its own travel agency, answered Nez.
“If we are a sovereign Nation we should be able to regulate our resource here on Navajo Nation,” said Nez.
Delegate Charlaine Tso said her constituents have always said, “We are the forgotten Navajos.”
She said her area of Mexican Water, Aneth, Teec Nos Pos, Tolikan and Red Mesa has truly been neglected for the past few decades.
“I’m hoping you will direct some attention and assistance there,” said Tso. “A lot of our Navajos have been mistreated. You are a Utah Navajo too. You represent that to a degree, you’ve stated. You went to Utah to campaign … promises were made. I’m hoping we can get resources out there.”
In response, Nez said he’s well aware that there are communities that feel they’ve been forgotten and he has traveled to Utah and met with all nine chapters to discuss public safety and roads. They will be having another meeting in the near future, he said.
“While we are on the subject of San Juan County, Utah, I want to urge the residents to vote ‘no’ in November to have a study group to start planning to divide the county,” said Nez.
“It’s now time for the county to come together and work together,” he said. “I know our current Navajo county commissioners are not going to discriminate. They are looking at all the best interest of the county.”
Vice President Myron Lizer and his wife Dottie Lizer are away celebrating their 29th wedding anniversary and with Nez were his chief of staff, Paulson Chaco, and first lady Phefelia Nez.
In the 23-page address, Nez included his war on diabetes initiative and the unsuccessful $50 million scholarship bill, which was referred back to the Budget and Finance Committee, as well as the bill tocreate an energy office.
His report also mentioned a meeting with Shiprock Chapter President Duane “Chili” Yazzie and New Mexico State Rep. Anthony Allison about a women’s shelter to be used as an assisted-living home for elders.
On Oct. 13 the Shiprock Chapter passed a resolution supporting this endeavor. Recently the Nation purchased a women’s and children’s home nearby in Blanding, Utah, known as Gentle Ironhawk Shelter.
Regarding veterans, Chaco said that he has met each week with veterans’ organizations for over four months to discuss their concerns, such as delays in getting assistance checks.
“How do we address issuing those veterans’ checks quickly?” asked Chaco. “We have been working with the Veterans Advisory Council, we have proposed a legislation to HEHSC (Health, Education and Humnan Services Committee). This includes the overhaul of the Veterans’ Trust Fund.”
Nez also listed the “Navajo thaw” plan to launch a partnership with Native Builders LLC and Building Communities for infrastructure, community and economic development needs for the nine chapters collectively known as the Former Bennett Freeze Area.
“The door is open for you delegates to talk to us and to the division directors,” said Nez. “When we are here, we can make time to talk to you when we can.”