Shonto signing celebrates local empowerment

 SHONTO-By casting their ballots in favor of the Alternative Form of Governance Referendum, Shonto citizens recently completed a two-year deliberation process and voted to establish the Council of Nat'aa/Atsilasdai. The signing of this referendum into law will take place on Sunday, Dec. 17, at 1 p.m. at the Shonto Chapter House. The public is invited to join Shonto citizens, elected officials, and special guests in celebrating local empowerment and effective government.

The Council of Nat'aa/Atsilasdai structure incorporates the current five elected officials with new regional representatives, one from each of the four directions. In each of the four seasons, a General Assembly, based on the current 25-member quorum system, will meet to make recommendations to the Council and vote on issues.

Shonto's Council governance structure reflects the Navajo way of life and traditional principles of Nitsáhákees (thinking), Nahatá (planning), Iiná (implementation), and Siihasin (assessment). This non-hierarchical system is based on the Four Directions and Four Sacred Mountains. The four community representatives have the same power as the other officials, while the General Assembly provides on-going community guidance.

Shonto is the first chapter to change its form of governance. Over two years ago, a committee began considering an alternative structure to streamline decision-making, restore local power, and ensure timely response to needs and opportunities. After many community discussions, the Council of Nat'aa/Atsilasdai was put on the General Election ballot where it was passed by 67 percent; 464 votes in favor, 226 opposed.

Shonto Chapter leads the way to self-determination

The referendum passage is a milestone on a long road of firsts for Shonto, a road made possible in 1998 by the Navajo Tribal Council's historic Local Governance Act (LGA), Title 26. In April 2001, the Transportation and Community Development Committee authorized LGA-certified chapters to establish alternative forms of governance.

Self-determination has boosted economic development as SCG has initiated contracts and financial agreements with Resource Partners. Two parcels of land set aside for many years are now under development: the 18-acre Public Service and Housing Complex will serve multiple needs in the region for community programs, including office space, business development, and youth and elder programs. Concurrently, 30 housing units are being built to address needs for home ownership and rentals. Over $450,000 has been raised to support this work.

The newly-formed Shonto Community Development Corporation (SCDC), a private non-profit organization, recently received two grants for over $190,000 to promote regional tourism at the Artists and Travel Plaza, 10 acres located at U.S. 160/98 intersection, and along the Naatsis'áán Scenic Byway. SCG is collaborating with scientific and business partners to establish a rural electrification business using renewable energy.  Other plans taking shape include technical assistance and mentoring for local business people and youth entrepreneurs.  

Quotes from the Shonto community voters

"Our cultural teaching is intertwined into this form of government," an Elder explained, "because each position or aspect of this governance structure connects our way of making decisions. All these things are the same all the time throughout Navajo Philosophy. There is no separation."

A registered voter at a pre-election forum said, "We are thinking down the road that we will not lose the Navajo way of life because the Council of Nat'aa is a teaching tool for our younger generations. This way, our whole government system is tied into keeping our traditions alive. We have a reason why things are set up the way they are, as opposed to the way that Washington imposes outside things on us."

"The Council is an opportunity to implement self-governance utilizing Navajo philosophy that was orally passed down through generations," a Shonto elder summarized. "This form of government will connect our generations and bring us into harmony."

"This is starting a new era of our community government and the first on the Navajo Nation to achieve this status," stated Jonathan M. Nez, Chapter Vice President and Council Delegate-elect.

Current Shonto Elected Officials:  Jones Grass, President; Jonathan M.Nez, Vice President and Council Delegate-elect; Elizabeth Whitethorne, Secretary-Treasurer; Harry Brown, Council Delegate (outgoing); Betty Dodson, Grazing Representative.

Alternative Governance Ordinance Development Committee (AGODC):  Joe Salt, Kenneth Begishe, Elizabeth Whitethorne-Benally, Arlene Laughter, Robert Black Jr., Jimmie K. Black, and Richard Tsosie.

Areas to be represented on the Council of Nat'aa/Atsilasdai: Representatives from the four directions will be elected at a regularly scheduled community meeting in January. Individuals interested in serving as representatives can contact Mr. Robert Black, Jr. Chapter Manager, at the Shonto Chapter Administration office at 928-672-2910. Regional areas to be represented are:

- Sháá'tóhí East - White Post and Black Mesa area;

- Sháá'tóhí South - Residential development at U.S. 160 and State Route 98 junction area to east of Cowspring;

- Sháá'tóhí West - Community school west area to Cowspring canyon near Coconino County line;

- Sháá'tóhí North - Tall Mountain and Betatakin area.

The qualifications to be a Representative are:

- Must be a registered voter of the GOVERNANCE and be on the census roll of the Navajo Nation;

- Must be at least twenty-one (21) years of age at the time of appointment;

- Must not have been convicted of a felony within the last five (5) years;

- Must not have a conflict of interest arising from tribal, state or federal law regarding his or her appointment as a representative;

- Must reside in region appointed to represent;

- Must not serve on any Governance committees; and

- Must maintain the qualifications stated herein throughout their terms.

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