Phelps said that Leo Begay, President of the Tuba City Chapter, and Cora Maxx-Phillips, Executive Staff Assistant to Joe Shirley Jr., President of the Navajo Nation, traveled with Phelps and Messner to the homes of three families, while discussing all of the important projects being held up by the Bennett Freeze.
The projects include power line extensions and home improvements.
Phelps has also spent a great deal of time educating himself on the issues.
“It has been heart-wrenching reading for me. It makes you want to get angry,” Phelps said.
Some points of focus in Washington include the Tribal Transportation Improvement Program, the idea being to improve roads on Indian land. Phelps is also looking into President George Bush Jr.’s energy assistance program, hoping to increase funding for low-income home energy assistance, such as propane.
Jones asked Phelps to convey his gratitude to Congressman Renzi for acknowledging the needs of his Navajo constituents. He noted the irony that so many young Navajos go into military service on behalf of this country, yet here in America they do not enjoy even basic human rights that other people enjoy. Instead, many Navajo live in substandard housing without running water and electricity.
Jones described the Bennett Freeze legislation as an inhumane law.
Cora Maxx-Phillips has served her people in various positions over the years, and has earned the prestigious title of Executive Staff Assistant to Navajo Nation President Shirley. She touched on some historical highlights concerning the Bennett Freeze, including the formal admission by Federal Judge Earl Carroll, who proceeded over the First Amendment lawsuit, Jenny Manybeads, et al. v. the United States of America.
While Carroll decided that relocation did not deny Navajos the right to practice their traditional religion, Carroll admitted that Bennett Freeze Navajos were being denied the necessary services to live a comfortable life.
During that time Congressman Dennis DeConcini declared that the United States must render a full commitment to remedy the living conditions facing Bennett Freeze Navajos, Maxx-Phillips said.
“DeConcini admitted that the homes in the area were unfit for habitation and must be replaced,” she said. “He also said that infrastructure and services must be brought into these communities, that these were necessary to improve the health of the Navajo people. He spoke of the goal to build roads, schools and other infrastructure to revitalize the communities affected by relocation and the Bennett Freeze.”
These, Maxx-Phillips said, were very good intentions, but since then, a decade later, nothing much has changed.
“Some lands have been unfrozen, but there has been no rehabilitation,” she said.
Maxx-Phillips is growing weary of hearing that there is a shortage in Washington, D.C. of funding resources necessary to improve the living conditions of her people.
“I hear it year after year, that everyone is competing for funding for their own projects, and there just isn’t enough,” she said. “My question, then, is—why are we sending billions and billions to rehabilitate other countries? If there isn’t enough money to help us, then why is the federal government spending millions to rent two panda bears from China? What about the Bennett Freeze?”
Not only that, Maxx-Phillips said, many Navajos were cheated out of importing funding sources because of the status of Bennett Freeze Legislation.
“The War on Poverty program slipped us by because of Bennett Freeze laws,” she said. “Lyndon Johnson’s great society program, 1,000 Points of Light never shined on the Bennett Freeze.”
Leon Porter, chief operating officer of the Navajo Housing Authority in Window Rock, was also on hand to listen to the concerns of community members, and reported a second round of funding under the Native American Housing and Self Determination Act.
One purpose of the meeting was to introduce Julie Takahashi to the community members living on the Bennett Freeze. Takahashi began work with the Tolani Lake Chapter and NCS, consulting on land use planning technical services. Her work is funded by the Office of Navajo Government Development and began June 9.
The meeting included a potluck dinner provided by the community, and a tour of the homes of some Bennett Freeze residents.
The effort to end the suffering of Bennett Freeze residents has been a long and difficult battle.
“The federal government cannot wash its hands of the grave depravity brought against Navajo people victimized by the Bennett Freeze,” Maxx-Phillips declared. “I think it’s about time to request another Congressional field hearing here on the Bennett Freeze.
She said by denying such “fundamental comforts,” the United States clearly shows it has misplaced priorities.
“The federal government has given us a bad check,” Maxx-Phillips said. “We need to redeposit that check. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the federal vaults.”
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