Coalition At Odds With Navajo Nation Council

The Dine’ Bidziil Coalition (DBC) continues to build steam across the Navajo Reservation. This union of grass roots organizations has spent countless hours educating the Navajo Nation—its government and citizens—about important civil, sovereignty and water rights issues to name a few. The most recent meeting held at Pine Springs was celebratory in nature—despite a strange twist.

Bringing water rights issues to the forefront of the Navajo Nation Government has been one of the coalition’s principle efforts. The Dine’ Sovereignty Defense Association (DSDA), working in collaboration with the Dine’ Bidziil Coalition, has successfully campaigned the Navajo Nation to form a Water Rights Commission. Recently the Navajo Nation did just that in special session, passing a resolution funding a Water Rights Commission.

The problem, as these grass roots organizations see it, is that the Department of Justice and its non-Indian attorneys would oversee the work of the commission. According to DSDA President Leonard Gilmore, this would be a serious concern because this will in effect allow the DOJ to run the commission by funding only those activities serving its own cause, which is, according to the DSDA, to delay the full water rights claim to Colorado River water.

Now, after countless hours of hard work to form a commission, the Dine’ Bidziil Coalition is urging Navajo Nation President Kelsey Begaye to veto the resolution. “This is very ironic,” one coalition member stated.

“We did all this work, and now we’re urging him to veto this.”

Another important issue under the gimlet eye of the coalition is Doodah 638 effort, which basically asked Navajo Nation citizens to stand against the privatization of health care on the reservation. The Navajo Nation Health Corporation was formed to attempt just that. This effort was unsuccessful, and the DBC celebrated the recent disbanding of the Navajo Nation Health Council by the Navajo Nation Council.

Interestingly, the DBC reported that the council has decided to go with pilot projects patterned after the Montezuma Creek Indian Health Board. Indian Health Services of Tuba City and Winslow PHS were named for the project, a fact that has Tuba City residents upset, according to the DBC.

Reapportionment, the effort to redistribute Navajo Nation delegates across the reservation, is another important issue coalition members are watching closely. There are three suggestions currently on the table. President Begaye favors the use of the 2000 Census. Some members of council, including Hogback Delegate Ervin Keeswood, are pushing for a reapportionment plan to use tribal registered voter numbers. That plan would pretty much leave council delegates where they are.

The National Native Youth Coalition and the Dine’ For Better Government groups visited with the President and Speaker of the House offices to urge another plan. This one would utilize an existing Native American housing development enumeration, which these organizations feel is far more accurate, and would better represent the reservation youth population.

The DBC counts as yet another victory the fact that Begaye vetoed the reapportionment plan Keeswood supported. The council took actions to override Begaye’s veto in special session. Keeswood retaliated by asking Speaker of the House Edward T. Begay to recall delegates to the floor after the session was adjourned for another attempt to override. This too was unsuccessful, and the council has been set for yet another special session for another override attempt.

Hosting the latest coalition meeting, representatives of the Pine Springs Association brought up their own special concerns of proper education and civil rights for youth. The community is in a unique situation, being surrounded by other communities such as Wide Ruins, Klagetoh, Oak Springs, New Lands and Ganado. All of these communities have school board representation. All but Pine Springs that is.

Further, extremely difficult road conditions create severe problems for residents. One example is families being stranded for weeks at a time during winter months. It is difficult for the community to find funding for road upkeep. This impacts on the school situation at Pine Springs, as the school must be closed when roads are impassable. As a result the schools lose valuable revenue.

During dry periods, residents face severe washboards and projecting rocks that are ideal for building homes and walls, but take their toll on tires. School vehicles and those of residents are beaten to death by these roads, presenting further financial loss in the community.

Irvin Toddy, an influential member of the Pine Springs community, laid down the bottom line on many of the issues the DBC faces. It is important, he said, that the U.S. Government stand by the commitment made in the Treaty of 1868, on all issues, not just that of education. “This treaty did not include the white lawyers like Pollack and Clapham (two non-Indian attorneys employed with the Department of Justice). I will uphold the Treaty of 1868, which is a binding pact that is still valid today.”

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