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Navajo leaders OK funding to help tribal scholarships

Noel Lyn Smith
Farmington Daily Times

GALLUP — A request to use $2.5 million from the tribe's Unreserved Undesignated Fund Balance for scholarships was approved by Navajo Nation leaders.

Tribal President Jonathan Nez signed a tribal council resolution to provide the amount to the Office of Navajo Nation Scholarship and Financial Assistance to fund the education of college students this spring.

The office sought the request after the tribe was notified by the Bureau of Indian Affairs Navajo Regional Office in December that there was no federal funding available for the Higher Education Grant Program.

The  program is administered by the U.S. Department of the Interior and is funded by appropriations approved by Congress in the annual budget.

However, Nez's office reported on Jan. 6 that federal leaders approved funding for the grant program in late December, and tribal officials are now waiting for the amount to be released – an action that may not happen until President-elect Joe Biden takes office.

At left, Aaron Troglia receives a copy of a biography about Navajo leader Annie Dodge Wauneka from Danielle Slim, an office specialist for the Office of Navajo Nation Scholarship and Financial Assistance, during the Chief Manuelito Scholarship awards ceremony on July 21, 2017 in Farmington.

According to the scholarship and financial assistance office, the tribal government has a five-year contract with the BIA to receive federal funding under the Higher Education Grant Program and this is not the first time an issue with funding as occurred.

In a Dec. 16 letter to Nez, the BIA Navajo Regional Office stated that it reviewed the tribe's request for funding and declined the proposal because no money was available through the Interior Department.

However, the regional office will notify the tribe when funding is available and when the tribe can resubmit a request, the letter states.

Rose Graham, director of the tribe's scholarship and financial assistance office, said this is the first time the BIA declined the funding request.

President Nez said in a press release from his office that his administration met with the regional office to discuss the matter and he is optimistic the issue will be resolved.

An assortment of thank you cards from scholarship recipients to the Office of Navajo Nation Scholarship and Financial Assistance are displayed in an employee's office on Jan. 14, 2019 in Window Rock, Ariz.

In his letter to the Navajo Nation Council, he wrote that the $2.5 million will be reimbursed to the Unreserved Undesignated Fund Balance whenever federal funding is received.

"However, we need to work together to create a solution to the continued federal funding scenario that leaves our Navajo students stranded each school year," Nez wrote.

In addition to federal dollars, the scholarship and financial assistance office receives funding for scholarships through the tribe's general fund, trust funds and corporate contributions but federal funds comprised more than 53% of the total amount available for awards to students in 2019.

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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