FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. - The Navajo Beef program, which features local Navajo ranchers raising high quality beef, has generated nearly $750,000 in its second year and is one of the successes of the Navajo Nation Gaming Enterprise, which is almost 10 years old.
After three attempts, in November 2004 the Navajo people approved gaming on the reservation. After gaming was approved, the Navajo Nation Gaming Enterprise (NNGE) was created and approved by the Navajo Nation Council in 2006 to generate jobs, revenue and economic opportunities for the Nation and its people.
Its first casino, Fire Rock, opened in 2008 near Gallup, New Mexico. In all, the enterprise has opened four casinos, three in New Mexico and one, Twin Arrows Navajo Casino Resort, in Arizona.
"Today Navajo gaming is four properties strong, has 1,400 employees and [has] distributed millions to the Navajo Nation and state governments," said NNGE CEO Derrick Watchman. "We have become a major economic engine, not only for the Nation but for New Mexico and northern Arizona."
Watchman said the Navajo Beef program has been very successful. Navajo ranchers supply high quality beef, Labatt Food Service distributes it and NNGE purchases it to serve in its resorts, casinos and restaurants.
In its first year, Navajo ranchers in the program generated nearly $440,000 in sales. In its second year, growth expanded by about 15 percent with sales reaching $745,940. The program now includes more than 50 Navajo ranchers. In 2014 the program had 481 head of cattle, in 2015 the program grew to 561.
"The Navajo Beef initiative is a tremendous opportunity for self-sufficiency," said Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly. "For generations, we have known that livestock is an important way of life that must be preserved. By working with our partners...we are enriching our tribal economy and going back to a traditional way of life."
Navajo ranchers at Padres Mesa Ranch in Chambers, Arizona, 14R in the New Lands area and Turquoise Grazers in Window Rock, Arizona all use traditional practices to produce premium quality beef. Navajo certified beef is choice grade or better and aged 21 days.
"The tenderness of the Navajo beef is unmatched because of ranching techniques incorporating a low stress environment, such as herding on horseback or foot, low antibiotic use and natural grass fed cattle," said Al Silva, COO of Labatt Food Service.
Watchman said the program is just one component of Navajo gaming's larger commitment to buy Navajo and further demonstrates gaming's role as an economic engine. And while gaming on the reservation is still controversial, Watchman said the creation of the enterprise was not done without the approval of the Navajo people.
"We're one of the only enterprises that was created by a vote of the people," Watchman said. "The people approved the effort and that led to the council creating our business."
He believes the people wanted the enterprise to represent the Navajo people well. With awards like the AAA Four Diamond award for Twin Arrows and other recognition, Watchman said the enterprise is delivering.
"To me it gets back to what the Navajo people were thinking when they voted for gaming in November 2004," Watchman said.
He also points out that Indian gaming is an economic driver. The casino's workforce is 85 percent Navajo. In addition, hundreds of Navajo gaming employees have received management and hospitality training, assistance earning their bachelors, masters and doctoral degrees and ongoing professional development opportunities.
"In addition to strengthening our employees, Navajo gaming will drive commerce, hospitality and economic opportunities as we continue to fulfill the mandate of the Navajo people and look toward the next ten years of growth," Watchman said.