It would be a serious mistake to think that this newspaper will give up so easy.
The results of a biased federal inquiry into the travel by hundreds of Navajo delegates to a conference in Hawaii, many of them using public money, found no wrongdoing and Sen. Pete Domenici accepted the findings Wednesday. However, we found plenty of wrongdoing, if anyone is interested in ethics and responsibility.
To the ignorant racist bigots who are Anglo and who sling mud on anything Navajo, who make harmful comments and who use this story as an excuse to rant...
To the ignorant racist bigots who are Navajo and verbally attack anything white, including in their minds this newspaper, which happens to be fighting this fight for Navajo families instead of elected spenders and feels cold schoolchildren are more important than a bruised image...
To the Navajo president, who has pleaded complete ignorance over the call for him to answer questions posed by this newspaper when all of the newspaper's readers have heard him publicly called out...
To the Navajo president's spokesman, George Houdini, who has issued untrue statements regarding attempts to contact him and who obviously enjoys the spotlight on himself while he tries to make any challenge to his boss disappear...
To the apathetic federal politicians that now include Sen. Pete Domenici, who perhaps has created the most harm in this saga by ignoring the cries for accountability and making it clear that Washington
is about politics. All of this while empowering the bureaucrats who think they must answer to no one...
And especially to the elected officials who traveled to Hawaii at the expense of the children you so shamefully represented by spending so much money when a fraction of your delegation could have gone and obtained what was needed...
To all of you... we're not finished.
We're not finished with this fight, and we will not be finished until the cry for reform and accountability is heard from Shiprock to Window Rock, from Angel Peak to Hawaii.
Put that on your surf board and ride it.
Here are the facts:
At least 362 people claiming Navajo ties paid several hundred dollars each to register for an education conference in Hawaii.
Conference officials estimated the number to be much higher.
Based on cost information acquired from travelers who responded to the newspaper's requests, the average traveler spent roughly $2,500 on this trip. If at least 400 attended, the price tag is around $1 million.
Federal dollars were used to pay for the costs of many who traveled.
Navajo tribal dollars were used to pay for the costs of many who traveled.
This newspaper sent a Freedom of Information request addressed to Navajo President Joe Shirley Jr., it made numerous calls to the president's office and it publicly called upon Mr. Shirley in print to answer our questions. His office continues to deny all of this and claim the president never heard from The Daily Times.
The Daily Times sent out more than 150 Freedom of Information requests, citing federal law in the call for public records believed to be related to this issue. Many of the requests were ignored defiantly.
President Shirley, his wife and a staffer attended the education conference, as did more than one-fifth of the 88-member Navajo council, despite many of them having no direct ties to education.
Much of the delegation consisted of elected school board members, including school boards that sent multiple delegates from the same district. This included small school boards in rural districts that sent multiple elected officials.
Literally hundreds of readers, most of whom identified themselves as being Navajo, contacted this newspaper either by letter, phone, e-mail or visitation to express support in The Daily Times' call for reform and accountability in this issue. Non-Navajo taxpayers also added support.
The Daily Times has not based its commentary regarding the issue on specifically addressing criminal neglect, but rather on the argument that 400 representatives were too many and that fewer people traveling on public dollars should have attended, allowing the money to be routed to greater needs by the Navajo people and schools.
Previous similar education conferences in closer Denver and Phoenix were not as well attended by the Navajo or other tribes as was the Hawaii conference.
The Daily Times continues the claim that greater reform and accountability is needed regarding the use of money spent by elected Navajo, and federal, officials for accounts such as travel instead of other needs on the Navajo Reservation.
The Daily Times concedes that a limited number of representatives attending this conference in Hawaii could prove productive for the Navajo educational system, but argues that these representatives should be limited in number per each entity and that they be considered obligated for teaching what they learn once they return home.
More recent facts:
The federal inquiry into the travel and the use of federal dollars and its findings endorsed by Sen. Domenici involved only entities that were involved in this conference. No known outside entity on neutral ground was reported as a source or for expert opinion. The inquiry made no offers of suggested reform or increased accountability. Domenici accepted the findings without question.
The Navajo president's spo-kesman confirmed that no federal agents ever visited the Navajo Nation to investigate this issue. Further, when this newspaper contacted federal offices in both California and Colorado that were said to be involved in the inquiry, both denied having any knowledge of it.
The editor of this newspaper wrote to Sen. Domenici last week, and sent the note to his executive assistant by e-mail as with past correspondence, requesting a meeting to discuss the newspaper's growing concerns with the validity of the federal inquiry and its expected findings, along with new claims of mismanagement that extend to the federal level, including federal offices openly ignoring the Freedom of Information Act. There was no reply from Domenici's office until his press statement was issued Wednesday.
The letter from the inspector general sharing his findings with Domenici was stamped March 7. Domenici's office did not share his endorsement nor the letter until Wednesday, March 12. Navajo President Shirley was in Washington on the same day to testify in a Domenici-supported Congressional hearing on another issue.
The inspector general supervising the inquiry works for the Department of the Interior. The inquiry was based on information provided by the conference officials, the Navajo Nation and the Bureau of Indian Education, which answers to the same Department of the Interior. No outside nor neutral party was involved in an official investigation, nor was the newspaper, which originally reported the first story about the travel last November, contacted and asked about its findings.
Sen. Domenici, who is retiring from the Senate at the end of his current term, is a senior member of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, which has "jurisdiction to study the unique problems of American Indian, Native Hawaiian, and Alaska Native peoples. These issues include, Indian education, land management, gaming, trust responsibilities, health care and economic development. Most legislation proposed by Members of the Senate that specifically pertains to American Indians, Native Hawaiians, or Alaska Natives is under the jurisdiction of the Committee," according to Domenici's Web site.
Although the inspector general's letter fails to include any independent source of expertise used to determine its findings, it does point out to Sen. Domenici that the said conference was promoted by fellow Sen. Daniel Akaka and Congressman Neil Abercrombie, both of Hawaii with an interest in tourism. The names were considered important enough to mention in the second paragraph of the two-page letter.
The Navajo Reservation is the largest in the United States, spanning 25,000 square miles. Its economy is described as depressed, and an estimated 18,000 homes remain without electricity, many others without running water. Many of its schools are short on supplies, teachers, special programs or material needs.
The Daily Times will continue its call for reform, and for improved government accountability on all levels involved with spending taxpayer money intended to help the American Indian people. The newspaper feels there is too much apathy and defiant abuse of power for selfish gains by too many in political office; and that the American Indian people who need the help most are not being fairly governed, including by their own elected officials.
This newspaper has worked hard during the past two years to make clear two of its primary mission goals:
It will fight to defend the civil rights of any and all people, and it believes that people of all races and cultures should be treated fairly and with respect.
It will fight for open government and accountability, and that includes the Navajo government just as much as the Farmington city government or any other local entity where we feel we are among the only watchdogs or entities available for appeal.
Does this give us an air of arrogance or, as one comment writer suggested, a know-it-all attitude?
It might come across that way to some, but in our eyes, we're simply trying to do our job as the Fourth Estate.
We will not be successful if we are wimps.
So, will the newspaper give up on this story before somebody finally listens to the cry for reform?
Troy Turner is the editor of The Daily Times. He can be contacted at P.O. Box 450, Farmington, N.M. 87401; or at email@example.com.