WINDOW ROCK – On the opening day of the Summer Council Session, Speaker LoRenzo Bates (Nenahnezad, Newcomb, San Juan, Tiis Tsoh Sikaad, Tse’Daa’Kaan, Upper Fruitland) presented a report highlighting the Council’s progress and accomplishments over the last few months.
In the 10-page written report, Speaker Bates focused on several areas including the progress of the Council’s subcommittees and task forces, “One Nation, One Voice” agreement, New Mexico Gaming Compact, proposed joint energy working group, Navajo Indian Irrigation Project, Land Buy-Back Program, emergency services in San Juan County, and the Fort Wingate Land Division.
“I commend my colleagues for our progress thus far and I look forward to upholding and carrying out the ‘One Nation, One Voice’ agreement,” wrote Speaker Bates. “The agreement ought to be upheld and not become a simple symbolic gesture that is swept under the rug, as we have previously experienced.”
The “One Nation, One Voice” agreement was signed by the three-branch chiefs at the start of Monday’s session. The agreement outlines and establishes nine priorities for the Navajo Nation.
Through the combined efforts of Council and other entities, the Nation’s Gaming Compact with the State of New Mexico gained final approval from the federal government and took effect on June 22, according to the report.
“Your efforts and persistence have preserved nearly 800 jobs for Navajo and non-Navajo families, with the potential of creating hundreds more in the years to come,” Speaker Bates stated.
In reference to the proposed Transportation Stimulus Act sponsored by Council Delegate Dwight Witherspoon (Black Mesa, Forest Lake, Hardrock, Pinon, Whippoorwill), Speaker said the Council will hold a work session in the near future to move the initiative forward. The legislation was previously tabled by the Council pending a work session.
The legislation requests the Council to refer the Stimulus Plan to the Navajo people in the form of a referendum measure that seeks the approval for the expenditure of a portion of the Permanent Trust Fund’s principle balance to support the plan.
The report also acknowledged and commended Title II Reform Subcommittee chair Council Delegate Alton Joe Shepherd (Jeddito, Cornfields, Ganado, Kin Dah Lichíí, Steamboat)and subcommittee members for bringing forth legislation to amend the legislative process as it relates to the introduction of legislation by delegates.
“After several diligent and lengthy discussions, the Subcommittee has recommended legislation to the Council to address changes in the legislative process,” said Speaker Bates. The legislation will be considered by the Council during this week’s session.
During the presentation, Speaker extended his appreciation to the staff and members of the Eastern Navajo Land Commission for their persistent efforts in implementing the federal Land Buy-Back Program, which seeks to consolidate fractionated land by offering to purchase allotted land from Navajo owners at fair market price.
The program is now in the “outreach phase” which focuses on educating the public while emphasizing that the sale of allotment lands is entirely voluntary. Delegate Tsosie said the program is scheduled to begin hosting outreach events with the first scheduled to take place in Crownpoint on Aug. 15.
The report also highlighted a July 10 meeting with U.S. Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Kevin Washburn, Navajo Area BIA Director Sharon Pinto, and officials from the Navajo Agricultural Products Industry, in which Resources and Development Committee members and Speaker Bates urged the federal government to fulfill its long overdue obligation of providing funds for the completion of the Navajo Indian Irrigation Project near Farmington.
“While we urge the federal government to fund the estimated $700 million to complete the project, a more feasible and timely option is to fund a portion of the NIIP known as Block 9, which is estimated to cost $290 million to complete,” added Speaker Bates.
Other concerns brought forth by Council members include the need to take further advantage of technology to increase efficiency, improved coordination between the legislative and executive branches to strategize prior to meeting with federal officials, devoting more resources to help those living in the Former Bennett Freeze Area, and publicizing all meeting agendas and notices for subcommittees and task forces.
At the conclusion of the report, Council unanimously accepted the report with a vote of 14-0.