Navajo tribe to study coalition
WINDOW ROCK, Ariz. – The Intergovernmental Relations Committee (IGRC) on Tuesday, November 28 was presented a proposal from the Montana-Wyoming Tribal Leaders Council to form a Large-Land Based Tribes Coalition and moved to form a subcommittee that will give the proposal in-depth study.
At the special IGRC meeting held at the Navajo Nation Museum, Library & Visitors’ Center, tribal leaders from the Rocky Mountain and Great Plains region presented a proposal by the Montana-Wyoming Tribal Leaders Council (MYTLC) to create a national coalition to advocate on behalf of large-land based tribes.
Speaker of the Navajo Nation Council Edward T. Begay thanked the 10 tribal leaders in attendance for their presentation.
“The proposal to create this new coalition sets a direction and focus and now it is a matter of formulating an Indian nations united charter,” he said. “This coalition could become a powerful tool for our people and the leadership that will follow us.”
Speaker Begay said the Navajo Nation Council and the tribal leaders involved in the effort need to map out a strategy so that none of the tribes’ sovereignty is compromised.
“I see that as a great challenge,” he said.
Throughout the meeting, tribal leaders echoed the sentiments of Jonathan Windy Boy, Chair of the MWTLC, who said the election of Gov. George Bush as President of the United States signals a move to put tribes under state control.
“We recognize this as a pivotal point in time within Congress,” Mr. Windy Boy said. “We may soon be greeted by a new administration that may not have an agenda that addresses our needs.”
“It is imperative as tribal leaders of this coalition that we keep focused to addressing the common issues of our tribes which are the overwhelming disparities of funding, healthcare and economic development of all our tribes.”
Gregg Bourland, Chairman of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, said the goal of the coalition is to bring to the Federal negotiating table a unified voice to put forth common issues that have been inadequately addressed or not addressed at all by current national Indian advocacy organizations.
“Little tribes have tremendous power,” Chairman Bourland said pointing out that advocacy organizations such as the National Indian Gaming Association (NIGA) and the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) have smaller tribes with little or no land “ruling the roost.”
Chairman Bourland said the Navajo Nation’s participation in the proposed coalition is “absolutely critical.”
“Without Navajo, the organization can’t really be as successful as it could,” he said. “Our combined strengths are enormous.”
Co-Chairman of the Eastern Shoshone Tribe John Washakie said a unified voice that includes Navajo is needed to get an equitable share of funding from federal agencies such as the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Indian Health Service, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Dept. of Transportation (DOT).
“There are a lot of changes taking place in DOT allocations,” Co-Chairman Washakie said, warning that the proposed funding formula for roads would put larger tribes with more roads at a disadvantage.
“We need to be unified on issues to maintain our land base, sovereignty and provide and protect what little we have for future generations,” he said.
The Navajo Nation currently has population of more than 250,000 and covers more than 17 million acres or 27,500 square miles, extending from northwest New Mexico to northeast Arizona and southeast Utah.
If the Navajo Nation chooses to help develop and join the coalition, the coalition will represent more than 70 percent of the American Indian population and more than 60 percent of the tribal land base in the United States.
Delegate Jerry Bodie (Sanostee), Chairman of the Human Services Committee, said that the MWTLC’s proposal needs to be given careful study.
“We need to see how it impacts our own Nation,” he said. “There are small neighboring tribes that may not agree with concentrating on large land-based tribes.”
Delegate Bodie said he would take the information presented by the MWTLC to his constituents for their reactions. He said he would base further actions on their feedback.
Delegate Ervin Keeswood (Hogback), who chairs the Government Services Committee, summed up the meeting with the MWTLC as a learning experience.
“We all understand each others’ needs,” he said. “It is now time to look at the proposal and see if we can establish a legacy that future generations can use to lobby federal agencies.”