Comments oppose regional government proposal

Noel Lyn Smith

SHIPROCK — Several residents called on Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye to veto a tribal council resolution that proposes a referendum to consolidate the chapter government structure into regional governments during a public meeting todayat the Shiprock Chapter house.

Mike Halona, chairman for Title 26 Task Force, talks to community members about a proposal to consolidate the Navajo Nation's chapter government structure during a meeting Wednesday at the Shiprock Chapter House.

The majority of the Northern Agency residents in attendance said they did not approve of the idea of consolidating chapter governments because each entity faces various issues. Many of the residents said the public was not adequately notified about the proposal, and there remains a feeling of distrust when proposals are made by the central government.

The public hearing was arranged after Begaye received the Navajo Nation Council resolution that proposes placing the referendum on the Nov. 8 general election ballot.

Begaye has until 5 p.m. Friday to consider the measure. Otherwise, it will be automatically adopted.

On Sunday, the president's office announced public hearings for this week on the office's Facebook page. The public hearings were designed to present information about the referendum and the regionalization plan, as well as collect input from tribal members. Two staff members from the president's office attended today's meeting and recorded the comments.

Nenahnezad Chapter resident Lucinda Yellowman-Bennalley asked whether the positions of chapter manager and community services coordinator would be eliminated under the regional government structure. With the proposal calling for the creation of extension agents in each region, she asked if that person would oversee responsibilities such as issuing land and grazing permits.

Today's public hearing was the third one Pierette Baldwin, of St. Michaels, Ariz., has attended. She advocated for people to voice their opinions about the regionalization plan.

Shiprock resident Zefren Anderson and fellow community members listen to a presentation on the possible regionalization of Navajo government Wednesday at the Shiprock Chapter house.

"Personally, I oppose it," she said, adding the Title 26 Task Force — a body charged by the tribal council with recommending amendments to the section of the Navajo Constitution that deals with governmental structure — did not fulfill its purpose to install accountability at the chapter level and to develop local empowerment.

"What you do see is get rid of the chapters. …I don't see how you can restore trust in your government by giving people a bunch of lies," Baldwin said.

Shiprock resident Gabriel Chee Benallie said dividing the chapters into regions could work "in theory," then called on the president to veto the council resolution.

"We're at ground zero right here in Shiprock. We know what's going on with our community. The folks in Window Rock, they don’t know what’s going on," Benallie said.

Shiprock Chapter President Duane "Chili" Yazzie said a number of people are disappointed with the proposal because they did not have input prior to the tribal council's action.

"We don't appreciate a plan that is formulated in Window Rock then brought out here with all these nice pictures,'" Yazzie said.

Before the session opened to public comments, Title 26 Task Force members Mike Halona and Shirleen Jumbo-Rintila provided information about the regionalization plan.

They said the benefits include developing more government accountability and transparency, operating efficient government meetings, promoting cost savings, developing a regional land use plan and reducing the misuse of chapter funds.

A number of chapter governments have had difficulty generating a quorum to conduct monthly meetings, Jumbo-Rintila said, adding that under regionalization, the quorum would not consist of chapter members but of the commissioners from the regions.

Shirleen Jumbo-Rintila, secretary for the Title 26 Task Force, gives a presentation Wednesday at the Shiprock Chapter house.

Halona said the 110 chapter houses would remain open, but the elected commissioners and office staff would handle daily activities.

Halona said the task force has received questions about chapters certified under the Local Governance Act. Under the regional structure plan, there would be no such certification because all chapters would be incorporated into regional governments, he said.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636.