Whatever happened to the advisory council on disability?

To the editor:

The Navajo Nation Council on Disability (NNACOD) was established alongside the trust fund for people living with variable disabilities to help voice their opinions with the Navajo Nation leader's office of the president/vice president and so govern the use of the trust fund for its people in the same matter as the Navajo Veterans Affairs. So-called advocates for the disability community have marched to Window Rock.

It seemed the advocates did more harm or may have even forfeited the purpose for the NNACOD's existence. These advocates failed to meet with the advisory council leaders then and establish a mutual agreement prior to the march. Weeks after the march I was able to chat with some folks who took part in the march but when I mentioned the advisory council the feedback I got was "the NNACOD does not do anything," or "the Navajo Leaders just use that as a curtain to hide behind." This tells me the marchers never clarified to their followers just where this coalition stood in an alliance with NNACOD.

Months before the march last year I attended a meeting put forth by the then NNACOD members to re-write the goals, procedures, mission statement, etc., with former executive directors of the San Juan Center for Independent Living, a satellite office from Gallup, N.M. Our meeting took place in Gallup, with Office of Special Education & Rehabilitation (OSERS) Director Roanhorse.

Some of the disability advocates throughout the Navajo Reservation do not respect nor understand NNACOD, its purpose, or who, how or why it was established. Our respect and acknowledgements should be given to former President and Vice President Mr. Peterson Zah and Mr. Marshall Plummer who have worked diligently to implement the trust fund under the Navajo Nation Code Title 10, for today, tomorrow and the future individuals with disabilities on the reservation.

The NNACOD was to serve as an advocate for Navajo People with variable disabilities and their families. The council was to be composed of handicapped consumers, representatives of public and private service providers and other groups concerned with the health and wealth of handicapped Navajo people, representatives of the business community, and other interested persons. NNACOD was to be responsible for "insuring that Navajo Nation members living with variable disabilities have equal access to employment, to public buildings and programs or services on the Navajo Nation; and likewise promote the concept that all persons should have an opportunity to realize their potential to the extent of their mental and physical capabilities" as re-written in Navajo Nation Code Title 13.

Another important role the NNACOD was intended for was in sharing and communicating information about legislative issues and funding distribution at the Navajo Nation, local, state and national levels and then to advise the Navajo Nation on matters pertaining to those living on the Rez with disabilities or those programs serving our Navajo elders and with disabilities. Each year the Governors Council on Disabilities of New Mexico and Arizona advocate for more funding on part of those living with disabilities. The NNACOD would play a principle role for our Rez-bound elders or persons with disabilities working with all four states' funding.

The disabled are a growing population - every year more of our soldiers are coming home with life-long injuries. While the tribal leaders work on getting the casino up and running they have failed to look into these forgotten people and create better facilities for them and in doing so create more job opportunities in health-related fields for our young college grads.

Long after some of us end up in nursing home or kick the bucket, what will the future of those living with a disability on the Reservation be then?

The NNACOD needs to get rolling in the right direction to make it work with state, federal and tribal funding for those people living with disabilities now and in the future. Those living with disabilities today need to educate themselves and stop belittling this important phase of the trust fund.

Amerson Davea

Houck/Gallup, N.M.

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