Tuesday, July 23, 2024

‘There’s more to be done’: Coconino County District 5 Supervisor Lena Fowler running for reelection

‘There’s more to be done’: Coconino County District 5 Supervisor Lena Fowler running for reelection

WINDOW ROCK – In time, one learns how county governments operate, said Coconino County District 5 Supervisor Lena Fowler, who’s seeking reelection. She’s currently serving her fourth term in office.

Angie Williams and Marie Acothley of Tuba City are the two other candidates in the election.

“There’s more to be done,” Fowler said.

Fowler describes her focus as a “combination of all areas,” which include areas on economic development, public safety, steady income with a secured and reliable job, environmental justice and advocacy regarding uranium tailings and water settlement, and community engagement.

“Internally, we’ve done a lot of changes,” said Fowler, who’s been a Tuba City resident for over 30 years. She’s originally from Tonalea, Arizona, where she grew up herding sheep and riding horses, about 30 minutes northeast of Tuba.

She is Tódích’íi’nii and born for Naasht’ézhí Tábąąhá. Her maternal grandfather is Tł’ízíłání, and her paternal grandfather is Táchii’nii.
While there are plenty of areas that Fowler beams toward, her passion and commitment to being a volunteer-at-heart have bestowed her prominent career highlights.

Notable career

In recent years, Lena Fowler has been heavily involved with community-based work with economic development, where she finds herself achieving great lengths.

Most recently, she helped establish the Colorado Plateau Economic Development Alliance, known as CPEDA, which is a collaborative initiation uniting Coconino County, the Navajo Nation, and neighboring cities and towns.

She shared that the CPEDA is now poised to make lasting change in communities impacted by generations of economic depression that were compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“During the pandemic, federal government sent out unemployment funds,” Fowler said. Many of the people here are self-employed who are artists, entertainers, musicians, and so forth, she added.

All those who applied for unemployment and received assistance during the pandemic are now coming to her with a letter from the Arizona Department of Economic Security, informing them to pay back.

“What is going on here?” she asked and contacted Arizona Sen. Theresa Hatathlie, who told her that she was receiving letters from individuals as well.

“We all got together and started asking what it’s all about,” Fowler said. Because unemployment is federal funding, she questioned why those who received assistance, need to pay back.

Thus far, partnering with Hatathlie and working with DES, they were able to resolve 80 or so cases.

However, she believes there are still more letters that she will see. “The letter says you may have committed crime or fraud, so therefore, you need to get a lawyer to go before an administrative judge,” one letter read.

“Some people have been hiring attorneys to address this and others are not, and some of them are just paying something back,” she explained. And if one is committed to fraud, they will no longer be eligible for future state services.

“This is not right,” Fowler said. “We are really looking into that.”

Additional focus is the sober-living crisis, which led to one of the largest healthcare scandals in Arizona’s history. Hatathlie has been advocating for accountability.

Community self-aware

Lena Fowler believes people need to know the businesses, organizations, or legislations being proposed or services offered in their communities because many people are not aware of what’s going on around them. Her duties are in the best interest of the people because changes in a community, such as the Navajo Generating Station and Kayenta Mine closures, have a profound ripple effect.

NGS and the Kayenta Mine were the backbone of the economy in the region. Many plant and mine workers relocated to train for a new position or change jobs. It was a hard time for displaced workers, said Fowler, whose job was to bridge a solution for her constituents and ensure that they were put first.

Gazing the horizon

Living in Coconino County, which is the nation’s second-largest county by area, Lena Fowler represents communities in the north-central part of Arizona, where she has been a lead onlooker toward project initiatives.

Through many roles and advocacy, she was one of the founding members of the Tuba City Regional Health Care Corporation Board of Directors, formally known as Tuba City Indian Medical Center, where she served as a member and vice president from 2001 to 2005 and was appointed by TCRHCC’s first CEO, Dr. Susie John.

The hospital board negotiated with the Indian Health Service, which TCRHCC received the second largest IHS healthcare contracts in the country when Fowler served as president with the Association for Indian Self-Determination made up of all Public Law 93-638 healthcare contractors.

This initiative cooperatively prompted to solve issues of common interest and coordinated successful lobbying efforts on the Navajo Nation and Congress, said Fowler.

In both her personal and professional life, Fowler finds herself gazing upon the horizon to seek an alternative outlook on the livelihoods of those within the county and the surrounding areas.

She spoke of being a founding member of the Tuba City Concerned Citizens, a volunteer group devoted to the cleanup of uranium tailings.

During college, she served as the late Annie Dodge Wauneka’s secretary. Thereafter, she served as Arizona Sen. John McCain’s first Native American intern and staff assistant.

Additionally, achievements include creating county ordinances that support Native American ceremonies and customs; simplifying the Arizona Delayed Birth Certificates process for many Native American members to obtain their birth record; serving as a Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Economic Mobility Leadership Network fellow; serving as the vicechair of Rural Action Caucus for the Nation Association of Counties; and the chair of Northern Arizona University’s Native American Advisory Board.

Fowler was selected as the 2017 recipient of the prestigious Distinguished Service Award at Coconino Community College, where she was highlighted for her outstanding contribution to the mission of the college.

“There’s more to be done and there’s more to continue,” she said.

 

Published July 3, 2024     Updated July 4, 2024
A correction was made on July 4, 2024: An earlier version of this article misstated Coconino County District 5 Supervisor Lena Fowler’s role on the county board. She’s not the vice chair of the board. Fowler is a resident of Tuba City, not Tonalea.


About The Author

Boderra Joe

Boderra Joe is a reporter and photographer at Navajo Times. She has written for Gallup Sun and Rio Grande Sun and has covered various beats. She received second place for Sports Writing for the 2018 New Mexico Better Newspaper Awards. She is from Baahazhł’ah, New Mexico.

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