Navajo Nation to distribute development money to four Bennett Freeze area chapters

Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye signs off on a budget for the Coppermine Chapter to begin building and renovating houses.  Submitted photo

Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye signs off on a budget for the Coppermine Chapter to begin building and renovating houses. Submitted photo

TONALEA, Ariz. - Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye visited four chapters May 17 to sign-off on budgets releasing funds to build and/or renovate houses in the Bennett Freeze areas of the reservation.

"We need these chapters to assess the housing needs that exist in their communities, addressing the needs in the [Bennet Freeze area] first and foremost," Begaye said. "The Bennett Freeze has gone far too long without development and in turn, it has affected our people. Bringing housing to the area is a top priority of the Begaye-Nez administration."

The funds budgeted for housing come from the Former Bennett Freeze Area (FBFA) Escrow Account.

In a memorandum dated Dec. 28, 1970, Acting Commissioner Ernest Stevens said all income collected on lands in the 1934 disputed area inside the original Bennett line (or western extension of the 1882 Executive Order Reservation) will be placed in escrow in a special deposit account.

The Bennett Freeze was lifted Nov. 3, 2006, and the Navajo and Hopi nations agreed to divide the funds from the escrow equally.

The Navajo-Hopi Land Commission (NHLC) requested the Bureau of Indian Affairs to authorize the Office of the Special Trustee to transfer the ownership of securities to the Navajo Nation from the Navajo-Hopi Escrow Account. The funds were deposited with the Navajo Nation.

On July 25, 2013, the NHLC approved distribution of approximately $3.6 million for housing in the Bennett Freeze area to the nine Bennett Freeze chapters, according to a distribution formula that takes into account the percentage of each chapter's Bennett Freeze area population.

The president visited the chapters of Cameron, Bodaway/Gap, Coppermine Canyon and Tonalea and is expected to sign two more budgets in the coming week.

Cameron was the only chapter not to have their budget signed-off on. The chapter was to receive approximately $649 thousand to be applied to developing and renovating 15 houses in total.

"In Cameron, we needed for the chapter to have identified families, houses and projects to which this money would go," Begaye said. "I need a listing before I'll sign off. I don't want this money to sit there for years. I let them know I'd be back in one month to see the housing list and to sign the budget."

Cameron Chapter Vice President Emmett Kerley said a list had been formulated previous to his time in office.

"Currently the chapter doesn't have a solid listing of 15 homes but we have a general idea of the need. The chapter does have an existing list but it needs to be assessed to see if people have moved out or if people are deceased," Kerley said. "We then need to add and remove people accordingly."

Bodaway/Gap Chapter received approximately $865 thousand; Coppermine Canyon Chapter received approximately $216 thousand; and Tonalea Chapter received $288 thousand. All money budgeted is to be used for housing.

At each chapter, Begaye stressed that he didn't want to lose money by waiting five or 10 years for housing projects to be formulated. He told the chapter officials to help the people of their communities in building houses and putting roofs over their heads.

The president has previously signed off on the Escrow Fund budgets for To'nanees'Dizi, K'ai'Bii'To, and Tolani Lake chapters. In total, Begaye has signed off on over $2.3 million dollars in funding for housing.

"This is our commitment to help the folks in the ...Bennett Freeze area," he said. "This is just the beginning."

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