WASHINGTON—Navajo Nation Vice President Jonathan Nez met this week with the U.S. Department of Interior’s Tribal Interior Budget Council. Council Delegate Kee Allen Begay and Navajo Region BIA Director Sharon Pinto joined the vice president along with tribal leaders from the other 11 Bureau of Indian Affairs regions to present their fiscal 2018 budget priorities to federal officials.
Every year, each of the BIA regions present budget priorities at the TIBC meeting for the fiscal year two years in advance; this year it is fiscal 2018. The Navajo Nation articulated increases in funding for its five budget priority areas including natural resources, public safety and justice, education, human services and roads.
“The message is clear from Indian Country. The federal government must live up to its trust responsibilities and fully fund healthcare, education, roads, and infrastructure development that will improve the quality of life for tribal citizens. Tribal nations should not be competing against each other for resources provided by the federal government from treaty obligations,” said Vice President Nez.
The Navajo Nation presented two sets of figures. One that reflected an estimate of true unfunded federal obligations based on the Nation’s treaty and a second set reflecting smaller budget preferences for a potential 8 percent increase in Indian Affairs funding overall. The unfunded federal obligations figures provided background on how much overall funding is needed, while the 8 percent increase showed the Nation’s preferences for a more modest increase in the Indian Affairs budget.
The Navajo Nation’s request for natural resources under a scenario of an 8 percent increase for Indian Affairs is $24.3 million. This includes increased funding for the needs of Navajo families in the former Bennett Freeze Area. The vice president underscored the need for redevelopment of this area that will include development of water resources, and replacement and maintenance of water storage tanks. He also said the Navajo Nation welcomes the closure of the Office of Navajo and Hopi Indian Relocation and urges those dollars to go to the Navajo-Hopi Land Commission Office, so they can continue can to address the healing needs of the Navajo people in that area.
Under public safety, the Nation requested $40.5 million, which included increased funding for criminal investigation, law enforcement, adult and juvenile corrections and tribal courts. The Navajo Nation receives and responds to more than 250,000 service calls per year. It is estimated that to fully fund all public safety for the Navajo Nation for a single year, the Nation requires about $74 million.
Vice President Nez also addressed the need for adequate funding for education. The request for higher education scholarships is $32.8 million. This increase in funding will increase the number of Navajo scholarship awards by 49 percent from 7,946 to 15,620.
The request for the Johnson O’Malley Program is $3.6 million under the 8 percent increase scenario. This program serves more than 45,000 eligible American Indian students, age three to the 12th grade, on or near the Navajo Nation. The program assists with educational needs, support and opportunities, basic school programs, plus college and career ready education needs.
Under human services, the Nation requested $43.3 million and included increased funding for welfare assistance, social services, prevention and treatment and housing improvement.
The Nation requested $22 million for road maintenance that will help address the 4,180 miles of dirt roads that cross the Navajo Nation. “Every year the Navajo people go through harsh weather conditions and roads become unsafe and impassable,” said the vice president.
Vice President Nez will serve on the TIBC road maintenance workgroup and Council Delegate Begay will chair TIBC’s subcommittee on public safety and justice.