Navajo Nation leaders meet new BIA Navajo Regional director
GALLUP — Navajo Nation leaders highlighted issues they want addressed by the Bureau of Indian Affairs during meetings with Gregory Mehojah, the new director of the BIA Navajo Regional Office.
Mehojah visited Window Rock, Arizona on Aug. 31 after the federal agency named him regional director on Aug. 29.
"I am very much looking forward to my tenure as the regional director for the Navajo region," Mehojah said to Navajo Nation Council delegates during a special meeting of Naa'bik'íyáti' Committee.
There are 12 regional offices under the BIA and each office administers program services to federally recognized tribes, whether directly or through contracts, grants or compacts.
Each regional office is headed by a regional director who is responsible for all agency activities, except education, law enforcement and functions of an administrative nature, according to the BIA.
Mehojah is a member of the Kaw Nation in Oklahoma. Throughout his career with the BIA, he has been an attorney in the agency's Southwest Region in Albuquerque and has overseen various offices in the agency.
He told delegates that his legal work includes the repatriation of cultural items stored at museums in foreign countries and that he is knowledgeable about federal Indian law, natural resources law and federal Indian reserved water rights.
He mentioned that his father is a former Bureau of Indian Education director and his grandfather was a BIA superintendent for the Fort Hall Agency in Idaho.
"We have a long tenure of serving Indian communities. It's something that we hold dear and that we're very proud of," Mehojah said.
While some council delegates requested one-to-one meetings with Mehojah, Delegate Nathaniel Brown asked him to submit plans and priorities for his first 100 days in office.
"I'm interested to see the type of training and skills that you can bring to the office," Brown said.
Other delegates called for furthering dialogue between the tribal government and the federal agency.
Delegate Mark Freeland asked to meet with Mehojah to discuss matters that concern the eight chapters he represents in the Eastern Agency.
He explained that land is the largest issue the chapters face because it is challenging to obtain right-of-way as the area is comprised of 23 land statuses.
The other concern is natural resources and energy development because allotted land is under the supervision of the BIA, Freeland said.
Delegate Daniel E. Tso called for support to restore Bears Ears National Monument in southeastern Utah to its original size of 1,351,849 acres and for the protection of allotted land outside the protection zone at Chaco Canyon from oil and gas developments, when requested by allottees.
Mehojah met with tribal President Jonathan Nez and Vice President Myron Lizer at their office in Window Rock.
Nez and Lizer spoke to Mehojah about several issues, ranging in topics but including right-of-way clearances, public safety facilities, road maintenance and forest management.
Mehojah replaces Bartholomew Stevens as regional director. Stevens is now the deputy bureau director for the BIA's field operations in Albuquerque.
"We hope to build off of the progress we've made working together with Mr. Stevens the last few years on right-of-way matters, land status issues and many other priorities. There is much work still to be done and we look to Mr. Mehojah to be a strong partner to move us forward," Nez said in a press release.
Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 or by email at email@example.com.
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