Letter to the editor: NABI committee should get facts before voting on Escalade project

To the editor:

The Navajo Nation 23rd Council is about to consider whether to vote for or against Legislation 0293-16 to approve the proposed Escalade project in my Community of Bodaway Gap.

Yah’ah’teh’, I want to take this opportunity to convey a few facts as a Bodaway Gap registered voter, grazing permit holder, Bennett Freeze Rehabilitation advocate, former Farm Board member, former grazing official and now president-elect of the Bodaway Gap Chapter.

Bodaway Gap is my ancestral homeland. Growing up in the Bennett Freeze, I have witnessed my people suffer while the dominant society prospers. Peabody Coal Company and the Navajo Generating Station maintain core infrastructure to support millions of non-Navajos while our people were forced to live without basic infrastructure for generations. This is why I committed my life to advocate for the rehabilitation of the Bennett Freeze.

In 2009, I was elected president for the Forgotten People Community Development Corporation, a charitable organization incorporated in 2007 with the Navajo Nation Business Regulatory. The origins of Forgotten People began in the 1960’s when community members would gather regularly to discuss the hardships imposed by Public Law 93-531, but more importantly to find ways to support each other’s families meet their needs. As the organization grew in sophistication, the name came to be known as Bennett Freeze Dine': The Forgotten People Grassroots Organization for Action and Prosperity Inc. and filed its first incorporation documents in 2001.

The proposed Escalade project has only divided our communities. Now, as president, I’ll do all in my power to unite our community to define a strategic path that supports our future rehabilitation efforts. As a grazing permit holder in the area of the proposed development, I have been very vocal advocating against the Confluence Partners, LLC proposed development in my backyard because the prospect of thousands of people daily roaming unrestricted would alter and risk my very existence in violation of my grazing rights.

Fact: The Navajo Nation Land Department, as of 2016, has the final authority to approve the withdrawal of trust land. The Land Department requires the Chapter to have the written consent of grazing permit holders before generating and passing a resolution.

I implore our NABI committee members to view the Chapter video footage and review the complaints about the Bodaway Gap Resolution BA-09-092-12 vote to discover how the planned chaos was executed to ensure two previously opposing resolutions were rescinded and a resolution in favor of project was passed. Formal complaints were filed supported by video, media articles and many sworn statements with the Navajo Nation Ethics and Rules. I witnessed many non-voting community members voting and others being purposely counted more than once. The vote was disputed by several witnesses and victims like my mother, Louise Yellowman, whose rights were violated when she was physically and forcibly removed by police from the Chapter for speaking out against the leaders’ effort to conduct an illegal vote.

Fact: As a LGA-certified chapter, our rights to govern over local matters as defined under Title 26 have been and continue to be violated. The Bodaway Gap community (voting) members have a legal right to be fully informed and must first agree to allow Dine' and non-Dine' Escalade partners and unknown investors to permanently move into our communities. If this legislation is approved, it would be nothing less than another assault, similar if not worse than the one imposed by Bennett Freeze, because it would be enacted by our own Navajo Nation leaders.

Fact: I can attest, as a Community-based Land Use Planning Committee member, that the recent update of the 2005 Community Land-Use Plan makes no mention of the project. This proposed project does nothing to empower our people with skills and knowledge that builds local community-based capacities required if we are going to rehabilitate our lives and lands post Bennett Freeze Era.

Fact: Legislation 0293-16 put forth by Councilman Benjamin Bennett is putting the cart before the horse and his motives questionable. He is disrespecting and violating Bodaway Gap’s local governance legal status to govern over local matters…violates the intent behind Title 26; Local Governance Act. Perhaps Mr. Bennett should focus and apply his economic leadership efforts for his own constituents.

Fact: In 2012, SB2109 Navajo Hopi Little Colorado River Settlement Agreement was introduced. If not for the Water is Life Conference in Tuba City, where the Water Warriors united with a clear mission to dissect the legislation and then set out to educate our people and our leaders, it would not have been defeated. In the same year, we first heard of the proposed Escalade Project.

Consider: We must remember who we are…. we are the Holy People who have occupied these Sacred Lands for millennia, which the Creator assigned us to Protect. Our Creator says it is time to restore Hozho. We are sovereign and should not monetize or allow others to monetize our culture. If we continue on this path, we are only enabling people to continue profiting at our expense.

I believe in leaders with vision and insight to trust and support their people to develop local solutions that respect and align with Dine’ culture and tradition. I would like to recognize Navajo Nation Law and Order Committee members for their wisdom and courage to stand for what is just and denounce Legislation 0293-16. All of the LOC members saw through the smoke and mirrors act by the Confluence Partners presentation and posed legitimate legislation red flags and went on record expressing many of our concerns. I suggest the NABI committee members considering voting in favor of this legislation review the LOC committee members’ comments as a basis for understanding why you should also unanimously oppose 0293-16.

Also, it’s worth reiterating…. the unknown and known risks are too numerous to override and the public opposition is overwhelming. If our leaders vote in favor of this legislation, it will become obvious to all that our leaders are acting against the will of the people and in violation of our legal and human rights and should be financially prepared to face multiple lawsuits from many different stakeholders.

In closing, it is my opinion that the long-term consequences will measurably be worse compared to the short-term perceived gains of the proposed Escalade project, if approved. The unforeseen risks pose to undermine our indigenous and sovereign Dine’ way of life. My mother, Louise, often says, “they’ve been taking our land and resources, and now they are coming for our souls.”

Ahe’hee’,

Raymond Don Yellowman, Bodaway Gap Chapter President-Elect

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