Navajo-Hopi Nations,Flagstaff & Winslow News
Wed, Oct. 28

President Begaye vetoes gaming resolution

WINDOW ROCK—On Friday, April 27, President of the Navajo Nation Kelsey A. Begaye issued a memorandum to the Speaker of the Navajo Nation Council, Edward T. Begay, outlining a veto message to the Navajo Nation Council regarding Resolution No. –36-01: “Adopting an Ordinance for the Regulation of Gaming Activities within the Navajo Nation.”

The following is the text of the memorandum, dated April 26:

Please be advised that I have decided to exercise my veto authority pursuant to 2NNC Sec. 1005 (C) (10). The above-referenced legislation was passed by the Navajo Nation Council on Thursday, April 19, by a vote of 44 in favor, 19 opposed, and 2 abstaining. However, 21 council delegates did not vote and only two were actually excused. Speaker Begay certified the legislation on Friday, April 20. My decision, again, centered on the past two referenda in which the Navajo people rejected gaming on the Navajo Nation.

Although Title 2 is silent on the effect of not passing a referenda, this does not authorize the Navajo Nation government or elected officials to ignore or subvert the will of the people. As a matter of public policy, a referendum provides a procedure for the people to voice their positions on issues important to them. By casting their votes in the referenda, the people participate in the decision-making process. In this case, the Navajo people, on two different occasions, rejected gaming on the Navajo Nation. I cannot ignore the will of the people.

In the 1994 Navajo Nation General Election, the Referendum Measure on Gaming was defeated with a vote of 23,450 (45.5%) in favor and 28,073 (54.5%) opposed. These results were certified on November 19, 1994 by the Board of Election Supervisors…Likewise during a Navajo Nation Special Election in 1997, the Referendum Measure on Gaming was defeated with a vote of 15,224 (45.7%) in favor, and 18,097 (54.3%) opposed. These results were certified on November 14, 1997 by the Board of Election Supervisors.

Additionally, since the issue of gaming at Tohajiilee Chapter surfaced, my office has received numerous communications from the residents of Tohajiilee Chapter in opposition to gaming in their chapter and community. In my mind, there are enough of these communications to raise the issue whether Tohajiilee Chapter members support gaming at Tohajiilee.

Last week, I watched the Council as they debated this very important issue. Not only do several Council Delegates opposed gaming on the Navajo Nation, but also several oppose gaming simply because of the referenda. These Council Delegates understand their fiduciary duty to their constituents and acted in the best interest of the Navajo Nation. Furthermore, as elected officials we are responsible to our constituents to make informed decisions. The decisions elected officials make impact not only the Navajo Nation, but also future generations.

In the past, I have suggested a fair and open debate on the gaming issue. Although many legitimate concerns and issues were raised during the Council’s debate, most were not adequately addressed or answered. Some Council Delegates posed very complicated questions pertaining to the waiver of sovereign immunity, the imposition of state and federal jurisdiction over the gaming facility, Navajo Nation liability issues, and the role of Navajo Common Law in gaming at Tohajiilee.

Other issues brought up during the debate which were also not adequately addressed were projected costs to build a gaming facility, operating costs, anticipated revenues, mandatory inspections, personnel, alcohol sales, societal impacts, and revenue sharing. These questions were basically left unanswered. From my observation, there were no current statistics, data, or even a feasibility study available to substantiate the success of a gaming casino at Tohajiilee, much less to assist the delegates in making an informed decision. Fair and open debate assists the public, as well as the Council Delegates, to make informed decisions on these very important issues.

These same concerns were articulated by Britt Clapham, Deputy Attorney General for the Navajo Nation in a memorandum dated January 19, 2001. Mr. Clapham recommended the general cost estimates associated with the regulation of gaming be provided to the Economic Development Committee and the Navajo Nation Council. Mr. Clapham further suggested seeking information about gaming from gaming tribes.

Likewise, I articulated these concerns when I vetoed CJA-05-00 on February 4, 2000. My concerns focused on a lack of a plan to address the many facets of gaming, such as licensing and related issues, the establishment of a gaming regulatory commission, etc. As stated in that memorandum, it seems only prudent that the Navajo Nation at least have a sound economic plan to undertake gaming on the Navajo Nation, including the Tohajiilee Chapter.

Finally, I am concerned that 23 council delegates did not vote on this most important issue. This means that 26% of the full Council did not cast a ballot. This concerns me greatly because whether the Navajo Nation should become a gaming tribe is one of the most important issues before the Navajo Nation, particularly in light of the last two referenda.

As President of the Navajo Nation, and the elected leader of the Navajo people, it is my responsibility to protect and promote the best interest of the Navajo Nation. It is, therefore, incumbent on me to review and consider all legislative enactments carefully and to make informed decisions on each legislative enactment. In my best judgment and, without the consent of the people, I cannot agree to the adoption of the Navajo Nation Gaming Ordinance. The voice of the Navajo people resonates, loud and clear.

I must ask that each Council Delegate take these very important points into consideration. Your responsibility is to uphold the integrity of the Navajo Nation Council, and to continue to promote the will of the Navajo people.

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