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Navajo Nation views BIA funds for public safety, courts upkeep

Noel Lyn Smith
Farmington Daily Times
Delegate Eugenia Charles-Newton, left, who represents Shiprock Chapter, speaks to U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján, D-N.M., about the condition of the Shiprock Police Department during a tour on March 22, 2019.

WINDOW ROCK, Ariz. — Officials from the Navajo Nation and the Bureau of Indian Affairs talked about a process to pay for operations and maintenance for courts, jails and police buildings on the reservation.

The tribe has been requesting that the BIA provide funding to maintain existing buildings, and also for new structures.

Members of the Navajo Nation Council and personnel from the agency's Navajo Regional Office, the Division of Facilities Management and Construction, and the Office of Justice Services met during a Feb. 10 work session for the Naa'bik'íyáti' Committee.

According to the agency, there were five locations on the Navajo Nation that received approximately $1.8 million in operations and maintenance funding from the Office of Justice Services in fiscal year 2019.

The agency received a letter last September from tribal officials that requested an assessment for the current police, jail and court buildings in Shiprock and in Window Rock.

The exterior of the Shiprock Police Department was shown to U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján, D-N.M., as he toured the police department and Shiprock Judicial District courthouse on March 22, 2019.

The assessment was called for based on current conditions for both facilities, tribal officials stated.

Shiprock has a court building and a public safety facility that houses a police department and jail.

Both buildings have developed structural issues, and tests show the presence of lead, asbestos and mold.

Shiprock is ranked second on a list to provide funding for the planning and design of judicial and public safety facilities on tribal land.

While efforts have been underway to secure money to build a facility in Shiprock and in other communities, tribal officials are concerned about the annual cost for upkeep and repairs.

A jail cell was shown to U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján, D-N.M., during a tour of the Shiprock Police Department on March 22, 2019.

Throughout the discussion, BIA officials explained that the tribe is open to applying for funding under programs it manages, but proposals must meet eligibility and requirements.

They added that the amount allocated to a tribe depends on annual appropriations made by Congress.

Patricia Broken Leg-Brill, deputy associate director of corrections for the Office of Justice Services in Aberdeen, South Dakota, encouraged that dialogue continue between the tribe and the agency as new construction projects move forward.

In addition to replacing public safety and court facilities in Shiprock and in Window Rock, tribal officials are examining new facilities – ranging from a fire department and police substation in Tohatchi to a public safety building in Dilkon, Arizona.

A hallway in the Shiprock Police Department building was shown during a tour by U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján, D-N.M., on March 22, 2019.

This is the second time council delegates met in a work session for legislation that Delegate Eugenia Charles-Newton introduced last year.

The bill requests approximately $66 million from the Síhasin Fund for construction and other associated expenses for a new public safety and courts facility in Shiprock.

On Dec. 12, 2019, the bill was tabled by members of the Naa'bik'íyáti' Committee for further discussion to take place.

The bill is scheduled to return to the committee on Feb. 13, according to the proposed agenda. The Navajo Nation Council serves as final authority for the legislation.

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

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