Navajo Nation government officials discuss Bureau of Indian Affairs and Indian Health budget

WINDOW ROCK - Members of the Navajo Nation Council, Vice President Jonathan Nez, and Acting Chief Justice Allen Sloan met Nov. 30 in hopes of presenting a unified voice to the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) and Indian Health about the Fiscal Year 2016 budget.

Speaker LoRenzo Bates (Nenahnezad, Newcomb, San Juan, Tiis Tsoh Sikaad, Tse'Daa'Kaan, Upper Fruitland) said the proposed BIA budget for FY2016 includes an overall increase of 8 percent, or approximately $12.2 million. While the proposed IHS budget increase could range from 5 percent to 22 percent.

According to Bates, the Nation must give recommendations for how to use the increased BIA budget money by early January. BIA Navajo Area officials met with Navajo Nation officials Dec. 2 to further discuss the Nation's recommendations and priorities.

"I want us to strive for one voice," Bates said, referencing the need for the Nation to prioritize and advocate strongly for "big picture items" like public safety, natural resources and the Bennett Freeze area.

On Nov. 12, the chairs and vice chairs of the Standing Committees met and decided the three branches of government would need to be involved in finalizing the Nation's budget priorities in relation to the "One Nation, One Voice" priority agreement that was finalized in July.

Nez, who attended in place of President Russell Begaye, said the Office of the President is determined to produce tangible results and improvements in the Bennett Freeze area and has had several discussions about approximately $1 million of BIA funds that may be used to purchase heavy equipment to construct earthen dams in the area.

Sloan focused on the need for improved facilities for the Judicial Branch, pointing out that the Nation's Peacemaking Program and Window Rock Office of Probation and Parole Services are being relocated because of mold found in their facilities.

Council Delegate Edmund Yazzie (Churchrock, Iyanbito, Mariano Lake, Pinedale, Smith Lake, Thoreau), chair of the Law and Order Committee, also advocated for judicial facilities along with healthcare needs and increased funding for public safety on the Navajo Nation.

Chair of the Budget and Finance Committee Council Delegate Seth Damon (Bááháálí, Chichiltah, Manuelito, Tsé Lichíí', Rock Springs, Tsayatoh) said that in addition to aligning priorities, the Nation should streamline procurement procedures, which often delay progress for many projects.

"We need to look at our internal processes to actually get something done," Damon said. "Yes, we can allocate money here and there, but our procurement process and other processes slow it down."

Each of the three branches agreed to share recommendations for how the increased federal funding should be used and will reconvene prior to presenting recommendations to the BIA and IHS.

"We're all in this together," Sloan said.

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