Begaye focuses on economy at State of the Nation

Noel Lyn Smith
Navajo Nation Vice President Jonathan Nez, left, listens to Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye deliver the State of the Nation address during the fall session on Monday in Window Rock, Ariz.

WINDOW ROCK, Ariz. — Developing ways for the tribe to address its financial future was largely the focus on the State of the Nation address by Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye.

Begaye gave the address today during the fall session for the Navajo Nation Council.

Before sharing his administration's work, the president spoke about the "financial crisis" the tribe could have faced in fiscal year 2017, which started Oct. 1.

The president said the nation was facing a $21 million shortfall, which would have led to employee layoffs, but the issue was eased when the tribe turned to "rainy day funds" to make up the shortfall.

He warned the tribe will not be able to use the same action if a shortfall occurs for fiscal year 2018, and he cautioned the dollar amount would likely be even higher.

Begaye said planning is vital, and his administration has formed a task force led by Chief of Operations Robert Joe and Bidtah Becker, executive director of the Division of Natural Resources.

"We have to form this task force to begin looking at how we will cover the shortfall that we know will come," the president said.

The president also spoke about a meeting he participated in between KeyBanc and members of the council’s Budget and Finance Committee, the Síhasin Subcommittee and Vice President Jonathan Nez.

During the meeting, they talked about an option to preserve and grow the principal of the Síhasin Fund, which was created in 2014 after the tribe received a $554 million settlement from the federal government.

"The best way to handle this large amount of dollars that we received is to leverage the fund with a line of credit that will be serviced by a portion of the fund's interest," Begaye said.

This move would allow the tribe to continue setting aside money generated by the fund, he said.

"We're asking that the principal not be spent but that we leverage every dollar of the Síhasin monies so that future generations will have access," the president added.

Nez took time to talk about the "business-to-business procurement summit" the administration hosted last year at the Twin Arrows Navajo Casino and Resort in Arizona.

The event provided presentations by tribal departments to educate small businesses and entrepreneurs about how to do business and secure contracts with the tribal and federal governments.

"We want to be able to bring some of our young people back. Young, educated entrepreneurial people who want to set up businesses," Nez said.

The president paused from the financial talk to acknowledge the passing of Navajo Code Talker Dan Akee Sr., 96, who died Oct. 14 in Tuba City, Ariz.

In the written version of the State of the Nation, Begaye highlighted a number of actions by council delegates to improve and provide services to communities.

The report also included an update on efforts to provide sexual harassment training to tribal employees, which the Division of Human Resources started on Aug. 31.

Sessions have targeted divisions, including the Navajo Nation Washington Office, and 450 employees have undergone training.

The Division of Human Resources intends to have all training completed by the end of November, the report states.

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