PHOENIX - On Nov. 30, Navajo Nation Vice President Jonathan Nez and Navajo Nation Council Speaker LoRenzo Bates attended Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey's inaugural Tribal Leaders Summit to discuss education, economic development, natural resources and infrastructure development.
Bates reminded Ducey of the Nation's need to stimulate economic development through revenue generation and job creation, while referencing a letter that was sent previously to the governor on behalf of the Nation addressing the Navajo Generating Station (NGS) coal and renewable energy issues.
"We are not opposed to other forms of renewable energy, however, at this time, it is important to the Nation to have aid in the transition," Bates said. "We look to you to advocate and promote the fact that the Navajo Nation has taken hits by shutting down several of our power plants. Yet, there continue to be more regulations handed down from the federal government."
According to the report provided at the meeting, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has enacted federal regulation that resulted in the shutdown of three generating station units at the Four Corners Power Plant in New Mexico and the possible shutdown of one unit at NGS.
Bates also touched on K-12 education and the Joint Technical Education Districts program, which provides tuition-free career and technical education to high school students up to age 22.
"The Navajo Nation feels that the program should be brought back because it is very efficient and works well," he said. "We would like to see those dollars restored to continue to aid our young Navajo people to continue working towards meaningful careers and get ahead of the educational game."
Nez advocated for increased resources and support for cultural education throughout the Navajo Nation, saying a stable foundation for Native people in Arizona can be found in their indigenous languages, culture and traditions.
"As many leaders here have expressed, if tribes are prosperous then the state of Arizona is prosperous," Nez said. "If there is anything you can do to help with the education system on the Navajo Nation, with language revitalization and cultural preservation, that would be a benefit to our tribal citizens."
Nez noted that budgets for education have faced cuts in recent years. In the short run, he said the fact is the Navajo Nation cannot afford any further cuts in the education of its youth. As with most rural school districts, the Nation's school districts are struggling. Money is not the only challenge -but it is a major challenge for schools that needs to be addressed, he said.
"The Navajo Nation's leaders are working with Navajo education leaders to develop other recommendations focused on improving education for Native American students across Arizona," Nez said.
Nez also called attention to water rights, a Navajo specific Medicaid system and withdrawing Arizona's support of the amicus brief in the Dollar General Corporation versus Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indian case.
Nez noted the need to establish clear water rights for the Nation and develop the capacity to deliver adequate supplies of affordable water.
"It is a priority for the Navajo Nation to get back to the negotiating table to openly discuss its water rights relative to the Little Colorado and Colorado Rivers with all relevant parties," Nez said. "We look forward to working with you in bringing critical parties back to the table to find viable solutions to this major challenge for the Navajo Nation. Be our champion on this issue."
The Navajo Nation Division of Health conducted a feasibility study in May 2014 about taking over its own Medicaid program. The results of the study show that it may be feasible for the Navajo Nation to operate as a Medicaid Agency.
The study accessed the cross-jurisdictional health care disparities, eligibilities, enrollment processes, amounts of reimbursements, mandatory service and data access.
Nez said based on the study, the Navajo Nation will call upon appropriate federal agencies to support the feasibility planning design for a Navajo Nation Medicaid Agency.
"We have the professional capacity to do this," he said. "We need state support in pushing for Congressional approval on this issue."
Nez also addressed the outcry within Indian country over the Dollar General Corporation vs. Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians case, a tribal sovereignty case that went before the United States Supreme Court Dec. 7.
He reminded Ducey of a letter the Navajo Nation sent regarding an amicus brief the state of Arizona signed onto, filed by the state of Oklahoma.
The amicus brief dismisses tribal courts and suggests that state courts are, in all instances, the appropriate forums for tort-claims against non-Indians who harm tribal citizens on tribal lands. Nez said the state of Arizona has always recognized the jurisdiction of tribal courts to prosecute crimes that take place on tribal lands.
"We respectfully ask that the state of Arizona withdraw from the state of Oklahoma's amicus brief," he said.
In closing, Nez extended an invitation from both himself and President Russell Begaye to visit the Navajo Nation.
He expressed appreciation to the governor for bringing tribal leaders together for the purpose of consultation.
Ducey acknowledged the issues presented by the many tribal leaders in attendance. He committed to fostering ongoing communication the Governor's Office and Arizona Indian Nations.
"What I want to do is spend less time talking and more time working," Ducey said. "This idea of consultation is important to me."
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