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WINDOW ROCK, Ariz. — In his last State of the Nation address, Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye touched on his administration's initiative to boost economic development on the tribal land.

Begaye, who sought re-election but finished fifth in the August primary election, provided some information about the ongoing work by the Naat'áanii Development Corp. in remarks to the Navajo Nation Council at the fall session on Monday.

The Naat'áanii Development Corp. is a holding company that tribal leaders established in July 2017. Among the initiatives the company has is to attract manufacturing corporations and promote job creation.

Begaye said the company is in communication with businesses that are interested in setting up operations on the Navajo Nation and its work is among the keys to helping the tribe replace revenue that will be lost after the closure of the Navajo Generating Station in 2019.

Although the current fiscal year budget is higher than fiscal year 2018, tribal leaders will need to brace for a sharp decline in revenue for fiscal year 2020, the president said.

"How do we prepare for this diminishing of revenue to Navajo Nation," Begaye said — then added that the answer is the Naat'áanii Development Corp.

In the president's written report, through the corporation, the tribe will eliminate dual taxation for any of the company's subsidiaries. This action is attracting attention from businesses such as Boeing, Airbus, Waste Management and Altree.

Working with these companies could "easily" replace lost revenue, Begaye said.

The president also briefly spoke about reimbursements related to the Gold King Mine spill, which he said are "trickling in" and include recent amounts totaling $135,000.

The money remains less than what the tribe is pursuing in its ongoing litigation against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for the 2015 spill, he said.

In response to Begaye's update about the spill, Delegate Leonard Tsosie said he wanted to know how many tribal members are seeking compensation, because $135,000 will only help a few individuals.

The president also reminded delegates that veterans remain a pillar of his administration.

The Navajo Veterans Act was enacted in 2016, and part of its work was to help veterans file benefit claims through local Veterans Services Offices located in the Arizona portion of the Navajo Nation.

As part of the act, the tribe entered into a memorandum of understanding with the Arizona Department of Veterans Services to allow Navajo veterans officers to access the state's administrative system to file claims, the president said.

So far, this service has been beneficial, and work is underway to establish a similar agreement with the State of New Mexico, Begaye said.

Several delegates raised concerns about funding to tribal veteran programs, and this issue is being highlighted in a walk several veterans are making this week to Window Rock.

Delegates also expressed frustration with funding not being released by the tribal controller's office and veterans continuing to wait for assistance, including housing.

The president also remembered Delegate Steven Begay, who died on Oct. 4 and represented five chapters, including Naschitti.

"The way he impacted the nation was remarkable for a person who only served 18 months as council delegate," the president said.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 or by email at nsmith@daily-times.com.

 

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