Reopening of tribal parks OK’d, awaits Nez
Navajo Nation Council voted unanimously 23-0 to reopen tribal parks last Thursday.
Sponsor of the legislation Delegate Paul Begay said the main priority as a Council delegate is to help the people and with parks closed, this leaves Navajo vendors and Navajo-owned tourist businesses shut down and losing revenue.
“Our thought as Council delegate is, number one, help our people,” said Begay. “This is a prime example of a situation of where we can help our people to get out of the hole and get back on their feet.”
The Navajo Nation’s daily case numbers remain low, even at zero cases on June 1. But even with these low numbers, Navajo continues to stay in the yellow phase.
Initially, yellow phase meant that flea markets are also supposed to be closed, but across Navajo they have reopened. Also closed are Navajo Nation roads, causing the Navajo casinos that are open to remain closed to tourist and visitors.
Ken’s Tours, which operates in Antelope Canyon near Page, Arizona, said they hired 120 employees and would hire more as the peak season arrives. After two weeks of orientation and training, they were shut down “with very little notice.”
They had to lay off almost half the staff but kept some staff on payroll for as long as possible until they had to lay them off as well, leaving only the general manager.
“We could no longer continue the payroll any longer with the prolonged zero revenue,” said Michelle Monroe, chief of operations at Ken’s Tours. “Choosing to keep people employed with no revenue coming in is very risky for a business to do.”
The closure also meant the business had to refund 100% of tour reservations that were made and they had to pay double the transaction fees. Not to mention the food and beverages they had purchased for their café and this was another big loss.
But another concern is trespassers who go inside the canyons unauthorized as they leave behind trash, human waste and vandalism, said Monroe.
Begay said he received a report from Page Chamber of Commerce of how some former tour guides are now on the street.
“You’ll find away to get a hold of a bottle,” said Begay. “That is one way to get them back to living a nice life where you can earn your own money where you can support yourself and your family.”
Delegate Otto Tso raised the question of exactly what is the position from the executive branch and its division directors on this reopening legislation.
He said not one director has said whether or not they support the reopening legislation, and because of their inaction and not addressing the issue, delegates are becoming the division directors and managers and dealing with the issues on their own.
“Paul Begay is beginning to be the division director, to be the manager,” said Tso. “These are people that we pay that are supposed to be taking care of these issues and bring these forth to the Council.”
Delegate Nathaniel Brown said his constituents and businesses months ago expressed the need to reopen tribal parks.
Other businesses in the Kayenta community have had no choice but to close down completely because of the continuing closures, he said.
“As leadership we care about all human life through this pandemic,” said Brown. “This reopening does not say we do not care. This opening says as elected leaders that this is the request.”
For over a year, and with mask mandates still in place on Navajo, Begay said he trusts the businesses will operate following health guidelines.
Amendments added and voted on with this resolution is reopening the Navajo Nation Zoo, Navajo Nation Museum and Veterans Memorial Park.
As of Tuesday afternoon, the president’s office had not received the resolution. Once it is received, President Jonathan Nez has 10 days to either sign or veto.