Renzi approached the question by tying economic development to sovereignty, stating that there are large corporations willing to take advantage of the workforce available on the reservation. The congressman mentioned a national defense company, which provides wiring mechanisms for fighter jets has shown interest in the Farmington area.
But, Renzi said, with the Bureau of Indian Affairs having authority over tribal sovereignty on matters such as business site leases, economic development on reservations is difficult at best.
Sketching a scenario where a business has located an ideal location on reservation lands, but faces a two-year wait for approval by the BIA, Renzi said that a change was definitely needed, one where “the Navajo Nation holds true sovereignty.”
John Crockett, the Libertarian candidate, echoed Renzi’s point.
“Sovereignty under the authority of the BIA makes no sense to me. Sovereignty under someone else’s control is not sovereignty,” Crockett said.
Renzi’s response to a question concerning snowmaking on the San Francisco Peaks ran counter to the traditional Native American stance opposing additional amenities on the mountain.
“The Arizona Snowbowl and the mountain right now are classified as public land. The footprint is on the mountain. I want the process to go forward,” Renzi said.
Although he pointed out that the Forest Service has gone through the study and analysis, he failed to tell listeners that the final Environmental Impact Statement will not be issued until next year.
Renzi also challenged Babbitt with duplicity, saying that while he spoke of desecration, his brother, former Secretary of the Interior, was a consultant for the Snowbowl.
“Saying one thing on the reservation and saying another thing in Flagstaff for personal gain is wrong,” Renzi added, ending his response by stating that he would ensure that the present resort boundaries remain the same.
Crockett pointed out that as long as Arizona has public lands, there is need for a process.
“I can’t say I support all of the steps in the process. This is a business that people run. Does our desire for a better ski resort overshadow the beliefs of other people? No.”
“The San Francisco Peaks are sacred to the Navajo, Hopi and many other tribes in northern Arizona,” Babbitt added. “Federal action needs to meet a higher bar in recognition of those Native American religious concerns. We’ve heard their concern that wastewater would be used to make snow on the sacred peaks. It’s the federal government’s obligation that these concerns are met by whatever action is approved on the peaks.”
A question from the audience regarding alternative energy, and whether this would benefit northern Arizona tribes economically spurred another dispute between Babbitt and Renzi.
“The Bush Administration has no energy proposal,” Babbitt intoned. “They will keep doing what we have been doing. There is no plan on reducing our dependency on foreign oil.”
He went on to describe his work with NAU that would put a wind generator project on the Navajo reservation using federal money.
“You will hear my opponent say this is not doable,” Babbitt predicted.
He was not disappointed. Renzi called this proposal an “empty promise,” one that Babbitt would not be able to fulfill.
“It is very difficult to get $2 billion dollars from the federal government,” Renzi said. “If you could get $2 billion for this project, the Navajo Nation does not want it. They want housing. They would want the uranium water cleaned that is poisoning their children. They would want roads and emergency and police services.”
On Oct. 20, the Navajo Nation Tribal Council unanimously endorsed incumbent both the Republican and Democratic candidates for District 1. Congressman Rick Renzi’s endorsement passed 68-0. A resolution endorsing Paul Babbitt passed in Window Rock with a vote of 40-36.
Members of the audience included Tohnaneesdizi (Tuba City) Chapter Delegate Hope MacDonald and her parents Peter and Wanda MacDonald. Peter MacDonald, a Navajo Code Talker, served four terms as Chairman of the Navajo Tribal Council from 1971-89. Also in attendance was noted Navajo artist Carlos Begay. These and other Native Americans who attended the debate said they hoped to learn firsthand where each candidate stands in regard to native issues.