To the editor:
Nation-building challenges face the Navajo Nation and its leadership in the areas of economic development, public safety, land management, and education to name a few. How should the Navajo Nation leadership tackle these challenges? Where should they spend their time and resources?
Nations throughout the world are in situations similar to the Navajo Nation. Leaders of some nations have not fared well in development decisions and others have made significant differences in improving the lives of their citizens. How did those leaders make a difference toward improving the lives of their citizens?
There are lessons to be learned from the decisions that have been made by leaders of prosperous nations such as Sweden, Netherlands, Finland, Switzerland, and others. These nations rank high in a number of prosperity measures, among others: economic quality, business environment, legal system, governance, education, and health. Many researchers found that these countries became prosperous by making the right investments at the right time. These countries invested in making sure that corruption was low, the government operated by the rule of law, citizens trusted each other, the regulatory environment was efficient, etc.
Using the above lessons, what should the Navajo Nation do first to move toward more prosperity? Where do we invest our precious and scarce resources?
As the next election looms near, I am concerned that some of our leaders are proposing spending plans that will not advance the Navajo Nation toward a more sustainable and prosperous future. Some of our leaders want to spend awarded judgement funds and other money on pork barrel projects that will not promote long-term, sustainable development on the Navajo Nation. In fact, these leaders want to spend these funds mostly from the hard-fought for Navajo Nation Permanent Trust Fund ($218 million) and the recently awarded judgment funds (Ramah Navajo settlement — $58 million and Navajo breach-of-trust claim — $554 million) rather than making prudent, long-term, sustainable investment decisions. These funds total about $1 billion. These funds are precious resources fought for by our former leaders that come once in a lifetime so they should be carefully invested to secure the future of the Navajo Nation as they intended.
Why not invest these newfound funds in the long-term future of the Navajo Nation? Successful nations throughout the world make long-standing, sustainable investments as a way to make sure such funds will work for them into the future — for their children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren. Such enduring, sustainable investment is the wisest decision to make to ensure that the Navajo Nation becomes more stable and prosperous.
I suggest that these newfound funds be properly invested for the Navajo Nation’s future. To do this, we need to create an environment that is safe for investment to attract Navajo and non-Navajo investors. Why is this critical? Because creating a safe environment for investors precedes economic development. This means, first of all, creating a strong, politically independent judicial system; developing a highly-educated populace; teaching and practicing Ke’; and improving public safety, and enhancing the health of our relatives. This is where our leaders should be spending their time and our valuable, scarce resources.
Long-term investment requires careful forethought and strategic thinking by imagining what the Navajo Nation might look like hundreds of years from now. Long-term investment does not mean spending our scarce resources now on unsustainable projects. First and foremost, good nation-building investment means creating an environment safe for investors, which will require thoughtful and far-sighted leadership decision-making.
If we want our descendants to live happy and fruitful lives, then we must exercise wise, long-term, sustainable investment planning to prepare a prosperous Navajo Nation for them.
Manley A. Begay Jr., Flagstaff, Arizona