Navajo Nation initiative rolls out heavy equipment to chapters
COVE, Arizona — The beeps from heavy machinery moving near the Cove Chapter house carried in the air as personnel tried out the new equipment.
Community members viewed the skid-steer loader, backhoe loader and motor grader parked on the east side of the chapter house during a dedication to welcome the machinery on March 25.
The equipment was purchased by the Navajo Nation government. Similar machinery will be delivered to chapters across the tribal land as an initiative to help meet infrastructure needs in communities.
In Cove, the equipment will be used to maintain dirt roads, and for other purposes.
Chapter President James Benally said the equipment opens the door for the chapter to collaborate on road maintenance with entities like Apache County, Bureau of Indian Affairs and Navajo Division of Transportation.
"This is not the stopping point, we have a lot of work ahead of us," Benally said.
According to a 2019 report by NDOT, there are 14,167 miles of roads on the Navajo Nation that are managed by the tribe, the BIA, states, and counties.
The same report stated that 15% of roads maintained by the tribe and the BIA are paved or graveled.
Robertson Tsosie was among the community members who attended the event, which was held under social distancing guidelines and other preventive actions to reduce the spread of COVID-19.
He explained that the chapter relies on NDOT and Apache County for road grading and other maintenance.
"Dirt roads are the main issue out here. It gets really muddy," Tsosie said.
"Sometimes we have to wait on the departments to bring the heavy equipment, which can take a few days. But with this, we have it at our disposal. We can start grading these roads right after it rains or snows," he said after reviewing the machinery.
In January, the Navajo Nation Council and President Jonathan Nez approved allocating $23.95 million from the Síhasin Fund to the Division of Community Development to purchase heavy equipment for the chapters.
The Síhasin Fund was established from a multimillion-dollar settlement the tribe received from the federal government in 2014.
The total includes using $2.76 million to buy equipment for the chapters of Beclabito, Gadii'ahi, Naschitti, Nenahnezad, Newcomb, San Juan, Shiprock, Toadlena-Two Grey Hills, Tiis Tsoh Sikaad, Tooh Haltsooí, Tsé Alnaozt'i'í, Tsé Daa K'aan and Upper Fruitland – all in the Northern Agency in San Juan County.
Navajo leaders approved dipping into the Síhasin Fund after the division did not use its share of funding from the federal coronavirus relief bill by Dec. 30, 2020, causing the amount to reallocate to the Navajo Nation CARES Fund Hardship Assistance Program.
Pearl Yellowman, the division's executive director, explained that chapters completed community needs assessment surveys last year and the top request was heavy equipment.
This equipment can open doors to economic development and to other projects that enhance and sustain communities, Yellowman said.
"I'm very happy to say that they're arriving and they're coming. It's a huge investment to the nation," she said.
After the approval by tribal leaders, the division followed orders to expedite the purchases.
Rock Point Chapter in Arizona was the first to receive a new backhoe on March 22, according to a press release from the Office of the President and Vice President.
Cove Chapter will also receive a truck and a heavy-duty semi-truck. The list of equipment for other chapters includes trailers, forklifts, loaders, water trucks and all-terrain vehicles.
Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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