WINDOW ROCK, Ariz. – Current Navajo Nation President, Russell Begaye was sworn into office on May 12, 2015. Former President Ben Shelly was the keynote speaker at the inauguration and gave sincere praise to the new leader. He presented Begaye a Pendleton blanket and draped it on the shoulders.
Before returning to his seat behind the podium, Shelly asked Begaye to sign an agreement document, listing eight large scale, economic development and job-creating projects that Shelly’s administration had started during his leadership. Begaye signed the document as a symbol of cooperation.
“There should never be a break in leadership,” Begaye said. “We should always be working together. Make sure that there is no gap between one president and the next.”
Following the inauguration, public outcry flooded social media outlets for Begaye signing his support for one controversial project listed on the agreement document. The Grand Canyon Escalade, a proposed tourist destination, on the rim of the Grand Canyon, in the former Bennett Freeze area. The project would bring 3,500 jobs as well as water and infrastructure projects to the dilapidated region.
Begaye quickly issued a statement claiming he was unaware of everything in the document and was put on the spot to sign it.
“The agreement that he signed with the previous administration was more or less a gesture of goodwill,” stated the Begaye administration. “The official position from President Begaye is that he does not support the development of the Grand Canyon Escalade. And that certainly cannot be underscored enough.”
Begaye did say that he agreed to continue the other projects. Those projects are listed:
1. Thoreau Rail Port – Phase I
2. Canyon De Chelly – Take over concessionaire contract with the National Park Service due in December 2015
3. Complete the Grand Canyon Escalade project
4. Thoreau to Farmington Rail Study Completion – Report has been submitted to the state agency and needs follow up
5. Division Commerce Implementation at the Navajo Nation Department of Transportation – 164 Review
6. Narbona Growth Fund – Complete legislative branch authority
7. Antelope Point Resort Marina – Complete buyout of the operator and the Nation to take over concessionaire at the Marina.
8. Continue the work of the Navajo Transitional Energy Company in its pursuit of developing clean coal technology and IGCC gasification technology
As of now, the Navajo people have not heard any update on the other projects that were started by the Shelly administration. President Begaye had been very busy dealing with the Gold King Mine contamination spill into the San Juan River which has affected numerous families who rely on the river for agriculture and livestock.
As this topic moves from the focus of media attention, there hasn’t been attention given to the status of these other projects. These solid economic development projects would bring long-term economic growth to the Navajo Nation.
Some of these projects need attention right away such as the follow up for the rail study and the concessionaire contract that ended in December. Other projects are ripe to take the next steps such as the purchase of the Antelope Point Resort Marina from the lease holder who currently owes the nation $7 million in back taxes.
The Navajo people are frustrated by the lack of cooperation and ability to pick up and finish projects by the ever-revolving leadership. There is a trend of egotistical leadership who want to implement their own ideas and projects while discarding the progress made by the previous leaders.
It is much easier to fund shovel ready projects than starting from nothing. Currently there are dozens of shovel ready in various Navajo Chapters and Departments that are in need funding. Begaye has been focused on his own priorities as well as the priorities of those in his inner-circle.