‘Once in a lifetime’: To spend $1.8 billion, Nation juggles needs
The needs in St. Michaels Chapter are not the same as Shiprock Chapter but, no matter the difference, projects with a long-term impact are what chapter officials hope American Rescue Plan Act funds will be used for.
President Jonathan Nez and his directors and Navajo Police Chief Phillip Francisco have traveled to meet with chapter officials and Council delegates to hear their views.
“We are touring the communities … we want to see how we can use the ARPA dollars to help these growth areas,” said Nez.
On May 28, the Navajo Nation received the first funding allocation from the American Rescue Plan Act totaling over $1.8 billion.
Nez said his administration has developed a project list that includes more than 9,000 projects at a cost of more than $20 billion, so it’s clear that $1.8 billion will not meet all of the Nation’s priorities.
“The Navajo Nation has never received this amount of funding from the federal level at one time,” Nez said. “This is possibly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for our Nation to create changes and benefits for future generations.”
Shiprock Chapter presented a list of eight priorities: Shiprock incident command center at a cost of $13.1 million; justice complex, $64 million; farm road pavement project, $4.7 million; irrigation project in Hogback, $4 million; clean drainages and tree removal, $1.5 million; wastewater, water, natural gas, electric, and broadband, $5 million; warehouse, $3 million; and mobile home park master plan, $1 million.
“We really want to concentrate on our infrastructure,” said Shiprock Chapter President Nevina Kinlahcheeny. “We want to make sure that sewers are up to par. A lot of these I think they are right at the shovel-ready status.”
Shiprock is one of the largest chapters and serves all Northern chapters and a new warehouse would be beneficial.
With more young families, Kinlahcheeny said home-site leases are needed but, in the meantime, a mobile home park is needed.
“We have multigenerational families living together because there’s nowhere to put a home anywhere,” said Kinlahcheeny, “so we want to open up some of the land within the community.”
Much of the list ties into a community land-use plan the chapter has been working on for the past two years and a community survey done in 2018.
“The top three community issues the Shiprock people want is housing, that’s why we have that mobile home park here,” said Debra A. Yazzie, Shiprock vice president. “Within our four years there is to have at least 100 home-sites processed.
“Second, is economic development,” she said, “and surprisingly they want parks and recreation.”
In her third term as Shiprock secretary/treasurer, J. Kaibah Begay said the chapter’s working relationship with the Indian Health Service is better than of years past.
She said the chapter officials want to see Shiprock grow in the next four years and that means better communication and collaboration with Window Rock and the divisions.
“A lot of it is complacent,” said Begay. “People done it a certain way. We are the new era of leadership and we want to see progress in Shiprock.”
Pearl Yellowman, director of the Division of Community Development, has worked closely with chapter officials and said ARPA funds bring to the surface other areas that need improvement and not just the “allocated intent of the funds.”
“We need to improve upon our communication, our fiscal, our capacity, our employment,” said Yellowman. “All of these areas will also increase or improved upon if we do this correctly.
“We should improve upon our capacity to bring on Navajo vendors and contractors … ability to hire quality carpenters and electricians … improve upon our fiscal and housing system,” she said. “All of the intended funds should touch upon all these areas.”
For St. Michaels Chapter, officials list a new chapter house, addressing the “red tape” of home-site leases, housing renovation, bathroom additions and the need to expand the cemetery, which is currently closed due lack of space.
“I hope all of you are hearing us,” said St. Michaels Secretary/treasurer Clara Bia. “I hope you agree with us. We do have needs and they all need to be addressed.”
Bia said the chapter serves about 7,000 people and said a new chapter house is needed.
“I understand this money is a COVID relief money – let’s get some relief,” said Bia. “Let’s really get some relief and start thinking of our needs.”
Both chapters expressed the need for public safety and Francisco said during the Shiprock meeting that ARPA funds of $44 million would go toward a new dispatch center.
He also emphasized the need for rural addressing.
“We are looking at a $44 million investment into two centralized dispatch centers,” said Francisco. “That’s really a small investment. This is really essential.”
There are a lot of needs, said Nez, and he is thinking long-term of how to help the Navajo Nation.
“I truly believe this is a pivotal moment in time,” said Nez. “The old politics … or are we going to be looking at transitioning … transformation of this Navajo Nation.
“Do we do economic development projects?” he asked. “Do we build homes? Do we do water line projects? Do we do electric lines? We have some tough decision before us.
“We have the opportunity to change the Navajo Nation,” he said. “This may be the only opportunity ever.”