LAS VEGAS, Nev. — In addressing tribal economic diversification, Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye said the Nation needs to move away from coal and oil based revenue generation while addressing infrastructure needs, workforce development and expediting processes for business development.
“The Navajo Nation is at a critical point where it must diversify its revenue sources away from the coal and oil industry,” Begaye said at the 2017 National Reservation Economic Summit.
The president said the Navajo Nation’s revenue from coal and oil has fallen from 77 percent to 66 percent. Begaye said the percentage may drop 20 percent more if Navajo Generating Station shuts down in 2019.
Begaye acknowledged the history that tribal nations have had in dealing with the federal government but also noted that tribes have persisted to grow in spite of adversity. He said tribal nations could benefit from pursuing projects that are in line with federal priorities.
“We have to make up our mind that we, as Indian nations, will connect with the presidential administration by any means possible to have them address our concerns,” Begaye said. “The Navajo Nation has been able to meet with the transition teams and we are talking with the secretaries to address issues we want pushed at a federal level. This is our responsibility as tribal leaders.”
Panelists spoke about tribal nations being overly dependent on single sources of economic activity and the need for them to develop diversified business communities on their lands.
The Navajo Nation derives its main revenue sources from business taxes, coal and oil royalties, and business site leases. The president addressed several fundamental building blocks that need to be put in place to foster business development.
“Infrastructure issues like water, wastewater, electric utility, roads, transportation and fiber infrastructure are fundamental building blocks that must be in place for community and business development to occur,” Begaye said. “We need an expedited land withdrawal process for business site leasing through tribal and federal processes.”
Begaye spoke about the need for tribal nations to develop business infrastructure through leveraging their dollars and utilizing federal exempt tax bonds.
“We need banks and investors to be willing to work with tribes in diversifying our revenue sources,” he said.
The president also addressed issues of housing, the obstacle of dual taxation on tribal lands and how public safety affects diversifying economies on tribal lands. Begaye also reinforced the importance of tribes working with their respective tribal councils to address beneficial legislative issues.
“Sometimes you only need to tweak one of your tribal statutes to make laws friendlier to our tribal entrepreneurs,” he said. “We need to maintain stability, continuity and economic growth on tribal lands and we can do it through diversifying our economies.”
Begaye talks more economics
While building and diversifying tribal economies was the resounding theme of a discussion at the 2017 National Reservation Economic Summit, Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye said tribal nations should change their views on economic culture.
Speaking at a luncheon on economic diversity, he encouraged tribal nations to become their own financial institutions, push for control over their natural resources and make federal agencies utilize tribal workforces in spending grant monies.
Begaye said as tribal lands are held in trust by the federal government, tribal members don’t own their lands or business fronts, which makes it hard for entrepreneurs to acquire loans without certain collateral. The president encouraged tribes to buy and own banks on their nations.
“We need to see more Indian nations buying their own banks so that they can lend money to their own people to start businesses,” he said.
Federal agencies that are conducting major projects on Indian lands, and using federal grants, should implement tribal preferences, Begaye said. Although federal laws govern federal dollars, those agencies have the power to implement criteria in their contracting that gives preference to employing tribal workforces.
“What percentage of these bids go toward employing tribal populations? How many of these contractors or subcontractors work with Native owned business?” Begaye asked.
In pushing tribal preference a step further, Begaye said that he will soon issue an executive order enforcing buying Navajo.
“I am issuing an executive order stating that if you do business on the Navajo Nation you will hire Navajos, buy Navajo products and contract with Navajo businesses,” he said. “We want to keep our money home. We don’t turn over our dollars like we should on the Nation.”
Begaye stressed the importance of providing employment opportunities toward bringing tribal members home. Many tribal members want to work for their tribes but face obstacles of employment opportunity and housing.