TÓ NANEES DIZI —During the Western Agency Council meeting Sept. 16, members of the Navajo Nation Council presented nearly $255,000 to the Tonalea/Red Mesa Chapter to carry out a pilot project to construct 10 homes in the Bennett Freeze area.
Council Delegate Tuchoney Slim, Jr. (Bodaway/Gap, Coppermine, K’ai’bii’tó, LeChee, Tonalea/Red Lake), who sponsored the bill to secure funding from the Navajo Nation’s Unreserved, Undesignated Fund Balance, said the initiative is very important for the community of Tonalea and signifies another step in the rehabilitation process for the Bennett Freeze area.
The council approved resolution CJA-05-17 in January during the Winter Council Session. Since then, Slim has worked with the chapter and various entities to ensure funds were properly disbursed to begin construction.
“The check presentation is the first of its kind to build homes for the Former Bennett Freeze. This is the result of great communication and collaboration with the chapter officials and community members. This is only the beginning and we will continue to develop within the Former Bennett Freeze area,” Slim said. “The families that live within the BFA deserve these homes because they waited many years for opportunities of improvement and development.”
Council Delegate Otto Tso (Tó Nanees Dizi), who also represents several communities that are impacted by the Bennett Freeze, said more advocacy and support is needed for the families that reside in the area.
“The Former Bennett Freeze area is an extensive amount of land that lacks infrastructure and suitable homes and Navajo leadership needs to continue to address these concerns at the federal level. There are many entitlements to the families that live in the area that are unaddressed by the federal government,” Tso said.
Slim said the project would not have been possible without the strong leadership and advocacy of the Tonalea Community Development Committee and Tonalea Chapter officials, who were also present. He noted that he expects the construction of the homes to begin soon.
When the council approved the funding in January, Navajo-Hopi Land Commission chair Council Delegate Walter Phelps (Cameron, Coalmine Canyon, Leupp, Tolani Lake, Tsidi To’ii), said the pilot project was a well thought out initiative that could not have been achieved without the cooperation of the community and the Navajo Division of Community Development.
Phelps added that what sold the initiative to council is the community demonstrated strong matching funds, which is a true example of self-determination and self-governance at the chapter level.
In 1966, commissioner of the Bureau of Indian Affairs Robert Bennett ceased development of approximately 1.6 million acres of land that was in dispute by the Navajo Nation and Hopi Tribe, which prohibited Navajo families from making any improvements to their homes or to construct new homes in the area for nearly 50 years.
Congress passed the Navajo-Hopi Settlement Act and in 2009, and former U.S. President Barack Obama officially lifted the freeze on development in the area, allowing for residents to begin constructing and rehabilitating homes and facilities.