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Navajo Nation Council backs Washington, D.C. real estate purchase

Noel Lyn Smith
Farmington Daily Times
A screenshot from Google Maps shows 11 D St. SE in Washington, D.C. The Navajo Nation Council approved on Jan. 29 a bill to purchase the property.

FARMINGTON — The Navajo Nation Council mustered enough votes during the winter session and passed a measure to buy real estate in Washington, D.C.

The parcel at 11 D St. SE is positioned to be the future home of the Navajo Nation Washington Office, which has been renting office space since its establishment in 1984.

Because the bill sought to use $4.89 million from the principal of the Land Acquisition Trust Fund, it required 16 votes or more in favor to pass.

The supermajority vote seemed in limbo on Jan. 29, but Delegate Otto Tso cast the deciding vote in the final seconds of the voting process.

There are two buildings that occupy the property, located across from the Spirit of Justice Park and in proximity to office buildings used by the U.S. House of Representatives.

"When the Navajo Nation Council first created NNWO in 1984, Navajo leaders envisioned someday planting the Navajo flag on Capitol Hill," said Santee Lewis, the office's executive director.

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She said the tribe would save money because it would no longer pay rent for office space. The bill states the office's current monthly rent is $25,033.

The property has many potentials beyond housing the office – from generating revenue by renting out the adjacent carriage house to increasing the tribe's presence among members of Congress, Lewis said.

Delegate Pernell Halona supported the bill because he viewed the purchase as a cost saving measure.

"We have opportunity right now to bring that cost down and create an investment for the Navajo people," Halona said.

For Delegate Daniel E. Tso, addressing issues closer to home has priority over obtaining real estate in the U.S. capital.

He also expressed worry about the safety of staff considering the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.

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"Those are some concerns that we haven't talked about. We’re just busy talking about the glorifying aspects of, quote, unquote, 'an embassy,' and, quote, unquote, 'a Washington office,'" Tso said.

Delegate Eugenia Charles-Newton put it bluntly that she was voting against the legislation.

"We are purchasing a house. A house that is going to require us to put more money into this project to turn into a business when we are facing a revenue shortfall. How do we tell our people we purchased a building outside the four sacred mountains?" she said.

She questioned statements that the property would generate revenue because there was no supporting evidence provided.

"What we heard was there's a 'potential' that some economic development might come out of this property," Charles-Newton 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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