LEUPP - As Chairperson of the Navajo Nation's Education Committee, Council Delegate Leonard Chee has dedicated himself not only to the needs of the Leupp, Birdsprings and Tolani Lake Chapters, but to the Navajo Nation at large.
Referring to candidate Jim Store's declaration (Observer, Oct. 11) that he planned to cut back on chapter delegate travel, Chee said that to meet the needs of the chapter, travel was a necessity.
"There is no money at the chapter level," Chee said. "If you want funding for new schools or roads, you must reach out to Window Rock, the state and the federal governments. My role is to get funding for necessary projects. If I stayed at the chapter house I wouldn't get anything done for my community."
Chee said that when he does travel, he does so with the best of intentions and that he does his best to be present and well-prepared for meetings. But he also pointed out that the travel budget for his committee is not spent entirely on travel.
"Members of the Education Committee took their travel budget and modified them to use some of these funds to pay a professional lobbyist out of Phoenix who drafted our Arizona Indian Education Act, which was signed into law on September 14 by Governor Janet Napolitano," Chee said.
Chee added, "We also took some of that budget and hired a professional lobbyist in Washington D.C. who worked on our behalf to reauthorize the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). A third part of our budget modification has paid the University of Colorado to do research on the development of a standard achievement data collection instrument. This data will assist us in our hope to determine a Navajo Nation definition of Annual Yearly Progress (AYP)."
Chee is encouraged by his committee's work in stabilizing funding for Dine' College, and the amendment to Title 10, creating the Department of Dine' Education.
"I am a strong supporter of our own educational system," Chee said. "Our children are just as good-better-than those off the reservation. I want to tell all of our Navajo Nation students to learn all they can, stay in school and stay off drugs."
Another of Chee's priorities is to get water for his constituents.
"We need water, and we need to protect the water that is ours," Chee said. Chapter resolutions from both Leupp and Tolani Lake mandate me to say no to the coal slurry line. I did my job by saying no to Peabody Coal Company and President Shirley. We need water for our own people."
Chee responded to critics' allegations that he stands against Navajo Nation President Joe Shirley Jr. by saying that he is doing his job-representing the position of chapter members.
"I have resolutions from Leupp and Tolani Lake demanding that I oppose the use of C-aquifer water to slurry coal to Mohavi," Chee said.
"I also have resolutions that mandate I oppose President Shirley on the $500 million bond issue.
"People are telling me that the Navajo Nation needs to look to other sources for money," Chee said. "I'm all for working with a Navajo Nation President who will listen to local issues. When he does not, it becomes my job to stand up and say what my community wants. My people's voice must be heard. I'm only doing my job. I will not support a president who is not making a decision in the best interest of my community. This is politics. If the administration changes, my position will not change. The Navajo Nation president must listen to District 5 on water issues."
Chee has headed major accomplishments during his service as council delegate.
He lists better access to water through the establishment of new wells, as well as a water line from Leupp to Tolani Lake.
The reactivation of two local community farms has helped to establish water rights for the Leupp community, Chee said.
"We have reactivated North Leupp Family Farm and Beaver Farm," Chee said. "These projects need further development-they strengthen our claim to the water we are entitled to. My hope is to get water to the Black Falls area where the people really need the water."
Chee is puzzled, however that his name continues to surface on the topic of Leupp Schools, Inc.
"I don't make any decision there," Chee said. "I'm not a member of the school board. I have no say-so on the daily operation or who is hired or fired. I don't know why my name keeps coming up."
Nonetheless, Chee said that he wants to recognize the efforts and accomplishments of Leupp School, Inc. and pointed out that the brand new school being built there would offer a vocational program complete with subjects like auto mechanics, welding and more.
Chee would also like to see a shopping complex in Leupp where people can shop for groceries, buy gasoline, and do laundry.
He feels this would allow the chapter to keep money within their community. He also stated that the Twin Arrows Casino is an idea still on the books and that he would pursue this facility.
A firm believer in physical and emotional wellness, Chee has also begun work on the development of a community park as well as a rodeo facility for community members.
Chee said that it is important to him to be in Window Rock representing the interests of his community.
He reiterates his sense of community by stating, "I am a positive role model. I promote education, good family values and morals. I also support people in the community in their times of need. To be a leader, one has to be [a source of] strength and support to people in need."
Chee adds, "At home here, I'm a rancher. I live out there with no running water on a daily basis. I can relate to the tasks my constituents face. I haul water and feed for my livestock right along with them. I'm sensitive to their needs. I'm one of them. I live where I was born-where I choose to live."