ACOMA, N.M. - Navajo Nation Vice President Ben Shelly led a 20-member Navajo delegation to the first New Mexico-tribal leaders summit last week.
Vice President Shelly asked New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson to partner with the Navajo Nation in efforts to seek American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funding for broadband.
Among infrastructure, economic development, health, public safety and education issues, broadband was discussed during the government-to-government roundtable meeting between Gov. Richardson and 22 tribes in New Mexico, including the Navajo Nation.
Representing the Navajo Nation at the summit table were Vice President Shelly, Navajo Council Delegate Ida M. Nelson of Red Rock and Navajo Council Public Safety Committee Chairman Rex Lee Jim of Rock Point, Ariz.
"The Navajo Nation is taking a huge step on broadband infrastructure," Vice President Shelly said. "It is our hope to connect the un-served, the under-served, and vulnerable population. We are building a fiber optic, redundant backbone, with a last mile microwave grid."
The Navajo Nation Broadband Work Group, headed by the Telecommunications Regulatory Commission and Division of General Services' Department of Information Technology, are partnering with the Hopi Tribe and three telecommunication companies to coordinate efforts to seek ARRA funding. The Work Group is also in discussion with other counties, tribes, and municipalities in the build out plan.
"Often, tribes are asked to buy into state driven initiatives," Vice President Shelly told Gov. Richardson during the discussion on broadband. "Tribes have progressed and we are asking states to join us in our tribally-driven initiatives, especially in areas of broadband. Our build-out plan is unique and we need state support."
During discussions on economic development, taxation issues were raised by tribal leadership.
"Dual taxation hinders economic development in two ways," said Vice President Shelly. "First, it discourages business from locating in Indian Country. Next, for businesses that have no choice but to locate in Indian Country, such as those involving the extraction of natural resources, dual taxation impacts the marketability of the resource by increasing the cost."
As a solution, Vice President Shelly suggested the state work with tribes to find areas to address dual taxation, such as tax-sharing arrangements.
During Council Delegate Nelson's testimony on education, she emphasized partnerships with the state on Navajo language, culture and history coursework and the need to pave roads to secure safer bus routes for the 7,641 Navajo students who attend public schools on the Navajo Nation.
Through the Navajo Sovereignty in Education Act of 2005, the Department of Diné Education has worked to create its own definition of Adequate Yearly Progress.
"The Navajo Nation is developing its own definition of AYP that will include performance standards based on a Navajo definition of education according to Navajo people, educators and policy makers," said Council Delegate Nelson. "These standards will supplement the existing academic performance standards of the state, but will not be in lieu of them."
Vice President Shelly asked the state of New Mexico to appropriate more funding to the Tribal Infrastructure Fund, support appropriations for the Infrastructure Capital Improvement Plan germane to Navajo chapters, and allow chapters to pool legislative allocations with other chapters within the area.
"I know through collaboration we can continue to make in-roads on infrastructure development," Vice President Shelly said.
"There is a severe lack of funding to properly plan, design, and construct infrastructure projects. This funding shortage contributes to project backlog and creates additional complications that interfere with the Navajo Nation's efforts to obligate spending in a timely manner."
Regarding health care for Native Americans, Vice President Shelly asked the state to increase enrollment for Medicaid and Children's Health Insurance Program enrollment and to ensure efforts be taken to recruit and retain Native American health professionals.
"We value the existing partnerships with New Mexico's human services and health departments and will continue to work on solutions to meet the challenges the Navajo people face in health care," he said. "The biggest challenges involves establishing a comprehensive trauma care system on the Navajo Nation. Many of our Navajo people live in far off rural areas and traveling distances to the nearest level 1 trauma centers can be burdensome, especially for those who lack transportation and have to be transported hundreds of miles to Phoenix or Albuquerque for trauma services."
Accompanying Vice President Shelly to the tribal summit was Navajo Division of Health Director Anslem Roanhorse, Navajo Division of Social Services Director Cora Maxx-Phillips, Navajo Tax Commission Director Amy Alderman, Navajo Telecommunications Regulatory Commission Director Deswood Tome, Navajo Division of Economic Development Director Allan Begay, Navajo Capital Improvement Office Director Casey Begay, and Navajo Board of Education member Dolly C. Begay.