Judiciary Committee receives report on status of Navajo Supreme Court Building

WINDOW ROCK, Ariz. – The Judiciary Committee of the 21st Navajo Nation Council received and accepted a status report from Navajo Nation Chief Justice Herb Yazzie on plans for a Navajo Supreme Court Building.


Chief Justice Yazzie explained $1.5 million is needed for preliminary planning for the first phase of the project. The total project will cost approximately $14 million according to projected figures released by the Budget and Finance Committee of the Navajo Nation Council.


“We have $1.5 million from the capital account. The intent is to use this money to get the project construction ready,” Yazzie said. “I was told $1.5 million is sufficient to do preliminary planning. That’s what we need. We need all the preliminary work — the ground studies, boundaries and all that stuff, plus using that money to do the design.”


Yazzie also informed the committee to be open when planning and designing the project.


“In court rooms where trials are held, make sure you don’t make structures or fixtures permanent where you are chosen to model the American system of justice,” Yazzie added. “Make these rooms more like a multipurpose facility. We have to open ourselves to the community and public. Those rooms should be available for other use other than trials — everybody has a need.”


Council Delegate Leonard Tsosie (Pueblo Pintado/Torreon/Whitehorse Lake) offered his advice on the project by keeping the public in mind and suggested the creation of a Legislative and Judicial Commission to plan the project.


“We have to keep the Navajo people in mind and make it easier for them to be in contact with the government, since we have ownership in that project, we should look at creating a Legislative and Judicial Commission to plan this,” Tsosie explained. “One alternative idea is that we need a lot of administrative hearing rooms.”


Council Delegate Harold Wauneka (Fort Defiance) said he supports the construction of this project and recommended the committee look at other areas for additional funding such as through Apache County.


“With the time I have with Council, I will help on this effort. I have ties with Design and Engineering and Community Development,” Wauneka said. “I am sure Apache County would like to do road inventory of the proposed project.”


A request for proposal for interested firms will be released and published in local newspapers in the upcoming weeks and the selection of a construction firm is expected by mid-March.


Caleb Roanhorse, legislative advisor for the Judiciary Committee, reported on the importance of the $60 million Key Bank loan, which is to be used only for priority listing sites for proposed facilities in Tuba City, Ariz., and Crownpoint, N.M. Roanhorse reported this information after suggestions surfaced to use some of the Key Bank money to help construct the Supreme Court Building.


“I think we need to have a judiciary work session with the judicial committee and the judicial branch to collaborate,” Roanhorse said. “There is some flexibility and the meeting tomorrow is crucial.”


A joint meeting between the Judiciary and Public Safety Committees is scheduled for Friday, Feb. 19, to discuss the allocation of funds for the public safety and judicial complexes to be financed by the Key Bank loan.


WASHINGTON – Associate Attorney General Tom Perrelli announced today that the Justice Department’s grant-making components have created a streamlined approach for American Indian and Alaska Native tribal communities to apply for Fiscal Year (FY) 2010 funding opportunities.  The Coordinated Tribal Assistance Solicitation (CTAS) will serve as a single solicitation for existing tribal government-specific grant programs administered by the Office of Justice Programs (OJP), Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) and the Office on Violence Against Women (OVW).  This move comes after consultation with tribal leaders, including sessions at the department’s Tribal Nations Listening Session last year.


        “This is a direct result of what we heard from tribal leaders at the department’s listening session.  Tribal leaders have made it clear that a single application would significantly improve their ability to apply and receive critical federal funding, which so many of their communities depend on,” said Associate Attorney General Perrelli.  “This comprehensive approach is another step in our efforts to work more effectively with tribal communities to improve public safety in those communities.” 


The Justice Department solicited input from tribal leaders on how to make a change to a single application process that would work most effectively for tribal grant applicants.  For the FY2010 grant process, American Indian and Alaska Native tribal communities will submit a single application for all available tribal government-specific grant programs.  This coordinated approach will allow the department’s grant-making components to consider the totality of a tribal community’s overall public safety needs.  OJP, COPS and OVW will then coordinate in making award decisions to address these needs on a more comprehensive basis.  The Department of Justice has begun providing information about the new process to tribal communities this week, with an expected solicitation process launch in mid-March.


Native communities and tribal consortiums may be eligible for other non-tribal government-specific grant-funding opportunities and are encouraged to submit a separate application to any grant programs for which they may be eligible.  OVW’s “Grants to Tribal Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Coalitions” will not be included in the single solicitation and application; OVW will release a separate solicitation and application and eligible applicants must apply separately for this grant program.

Today’s announcement is part of the Justice Department’s ongoing initiative to increase engagement, coordination and action on public safety in tribal communities.    

Rep. Kirkpatrick on First Anniversary of Recovery Act Signing: Bill Made Clear Difference for Greater Arizona, But Still Much Left to Do to End Downturn

FLAGSTAFF, AZ Representative Ann Kirkpatrick today issued a statement recognizing the first anniversary of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) being signed into law. The Congresswoman released the following statement:

“At this time last year, Arizona and the entire country were facing a very real threat of economic collapse. We were at risk of losing both jobs and public services that our communities badly need. I supported the Recovery Act because we had too much to lose in my district if we did not take action.

“One year later, there is still much left to do to get our economy going again, but the Recovery Act has made a clear difference for Greater Arizona. We have avoided the worst service cuts, keeping our teachers in the classroom and our law enforcement on duty. The tax cuts in the bill are helping middle class families balance their budgets, and its smart investments in critical fields are starting to get folks back to work – with almost 1,100 jobs created or saved in the district so far.

“However, we all know our work is not over. Too many families are still trying to make ends meet, and too many folks are still out of a job. Creating jobs and getting Arizona back on track remains my top priority.

“Much of the Recovery Act is just beginning to take effect, and we need to continue to make sure our taxpayer dollars are spent well. I was proud to lead the way by issuing a report on how the package has worked for District One in December, and I will be releasing an update on where we stand at the one-year mark in the coming weeks.

“Furthermore, the Recovery Act is just one part of our efforts on the economy. With our national debt at historic levels, we should also be looking to spur economic growth without new spending. While we monitor ARRA’s progress, we must push forward with cost-efficient job creation efforts for our communities.

“I am fighting every day to end the downturn and make progress for Greater Arizona’s families. The Recovery Act has helped serve that goal for the last 12 months, and I look forward to continuing to help District One benefit from the bill.”

Education Committee commends Dilkon Community School, principal Dr. Lewis for progression

WINDOW ROCK, Ariz. – The Education Committee of the 21st Navajo Nation Council received and accepted the status report on Dilkon Community School from the school’s new Chief Executive Officer Dr. Tommy Lewis, who also serves as the school principal.


The Education Committee accepted the report with a 6-0 vote. Dr. Lewis informed the committee of his administration’s efforts at Dilkon Community School.


“This is the first school that came about in this community,” Dr. Lewis explained. “From this small school, the community developed and the school brought life to this community.” 


The Fiscal Year Audit Reports for 2007, 2008 and 2009 detailing Dilkon Community School’s progression was also reported to the committee.


“I am here to report that Dilkon Community School is in better condition,” Lewis said. “Our goal is to make Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP). The Obama Administration is considering changes be made to AYP or the No Child Left Behind Act which will be much more meaningful to us.”


Lewis also explained the school administration’s request to ask the Bureau of Indian Education and the Navajo Department of Diné Education to lift the label of high risk, so the school can receive funds without restriction.


“A lot of work has gone into the accounting section to incorporate checks and balances,” Lewis added. “It’s important for any school to have accountability. I informed my board of being accountable first.”


Dr. Lewis’ report also included information regarding a grant award of $368,800 from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to improve academic performance. He also reported the school was selected as the Best Construction for 2009 by McGraw-Hill Construction and Southwest Contractors.


Lorena Zah-Bahe, education program manager with the Navajo Department of Diné Technical Assistance, said Dilkon Community School has made a 360 degree turn-around and she commended the efforts of the current school administration.


“Hopefully they make AYP this spring,” Zah-Bahe said. “We do have a success story here. I really commend and wish the Navajo Nation could provide a prestigious award to the school.”


Council Delegate Leonard Anthony (Shiprock) spoke in support of and congratulated the Dilkon representatives on the efforts and progression of the school.


“The Education Committee is satisfied about the turn-around time of the financial and educational progress at Dilkon Community School,” Anthony said. “We commend the efforts of Dr. Lewis. As a past Superintendent in the Division of Diné Education, he has the expertise to lead the school in the right direction.”


“In correlation with the school board, there is improved communication as well as improved education,” Anthony added. “However, we need to have Dilkon Community School meet AYP consistently year after year.” 


The Dilkon Community School is currently located in a new school building and has a student population of 223 students with 43 of those students living in its new dormitories.

Former Council Speaker Begay, original drafter of Diné Fundamental Law, supports Council amendments

“I am a bit surprised of the veto.” – Edward T. Begay, former Speaker of the Navajo Nation



WINDOW ROCK, Ariz. — Former Navajo Nation Council Speaker Edward T. Begay supports the amendments to the Diné Fundamental Law adopted by the Navajo Nation Council during the 2010 Winter Session.


Former Speaker Begay listened to the Council debate on the amendments from the gallery of the Navajo Nation Council Chamber and later explained, “The proposed amendments to the legislation sounded like the original position.”


Begay was one of the original drafters of the Diné Fundamental Law resolution which was adopted as Resolution CN-69-02 on Nov. 1, 2002.He described the original intent of the Diné Fundamental Law, or Diné bibeehaz’aanii, as preserving and encouraging the education of the young in oral teachings from leaders and the elderly for the benefit of the future of the Diné. 


“It is a diverse thing and includes day-to-day life. It gets into songs, prayers and practices.” Begay said in explaining that the Diné Fundamental Law should not be used as a tool to be used by one person against another. “The tool is not to punish or to get even with, for lack of a better term, to dominate somebody. It’s a teaching tool that you don’t hurt people’s feelings — it’s a teaching tool.”


Begay agreed that, even under the current law, the Diné Fundamental Law should not be used to replace the laws passed by the Navajo Nation Council.


“The court needs to exhaust all remedies before using Navajo common law,” Begay said. “That should be part of decisions.”


He disagreed with the replacement of codified law with Navajo common law and said, “They forego what they have gone by all these years and they go start to use Navajo common law to make a decision.”


Begay agrees with the use of the Diné Fundamental Law in peacemaking and sees the necessity of improvements in the Navajo Nation Judicial Branch’s Peacemaking Program.


“Navajo peacemaking court is not fully developed to its potential, meaning that the one hearing the case and rendering a decision, they don’t have all the training that sitting judges have,” Begay said. “I don’t think peacemaking has been fully explored. I guess the Navajo Nation does not fully accept programs. It’s almost only on a volunteer basis.”


Begay was surprised by President Joe Shirley Jr.’s veto of the Diné Fundamental Law amendments. 


“I am a bit surprised of the veto. I guess that is his option that he exercises,” Begay said. “When I listen to the President speak or talk, he always talks about Diné Fundamental Law. For him to veto that is puzzling to me, just looking at the standpoint of the future — Diné Fundamental Law is a teaching tool.”


Speaker Lawrence T. Morgan explained that the veto of Resolution CJA-08-10 was anticipated and advised that veto override legislation has been drafted and that such legislation may be considered in a Navajo Nation Council special session tentatively scheduled for next week. 


WASHINGTON – The Justice Department today made public its plan of action, submitted to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), to improve consultation and coordination between the Justice Department and tribal nations, as directed by President Barack Obama’s Memorandum on Tribal Consultation.  The Presidential Memorandum, signed on Nov. 5, 2009, at the White House Tribal Nations Conference, directed each federal agency to submit to OMB within 90 days a plan of action to implement President Clinton’s Executive Order 13175 on Consultation and Coordination with Tribal Governments.  The Justice Department’s plan was submitted to OMB on January 27, 2010.

The Justice Department’s plan, which is available at: http://justice.gov/opa/documents/exec13175-consultation-policy.pdf, identifies the steps it will take to develop a comprehensive consultation and coordination policy with tribal nations, after robust tribal input.  In addition, the department’s submission makes a commitment to: 

  • expand the role of the Office of Tribal Justice;
  • create a Tribal Nations Leadership Council to ensure ongoing communication and collaboration with tribal governments;
  • convene consultations between tribal leadership and U.S. Attorneys whose jurisdictions include federally-recognized Indian tribes;
  • mandate annual meetings between the department’s grants offices and tribal leadership to discuss grants policies, concerns or funding priorities;
  • create a new federal-tribal taskforce to develop strategies and guidance for federal and tribal prosecutions of crimes of violence against women in tribal communities; and
  • publish a progress report within 270 days of the Presidential Memorandum evaluating the implementation of these reforms.

The Justice Department’s plan of action was driven largely by input gathered from the department’s own Tribal Nations Listening Session in late October 2009 and from the department’s annual tribal consultation on violence against women, as well as from written comments submitted by tribal governments, groups and organizations to the Justice Department and tribal consultation conference calls conducted by the Office of Tribal Justice.

The department’s plan to improve consultation and coordination with tribal governments comes a month after Attorney General Eric Holder announced sweeping reforms within the department to improve safety on tribal land.  The Attorney General also announced that the Justice Department’s FY 2010 appropriation included an additional $6 million for Indian Country prosecution efforts, enabling the department to bring the federal justice system closer to Indian Country.  For more information, go to: http://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/2010/January/10-ag-019.html.

ADOT continues to work with communities statewide to find solutions to MVD office closures

Eight offices to close today due to budget cuts; four working through solutions


PHOENIX – The Arizona Department of Transportation continues to work with communities statewide to keep Motor Vehicle Division services available to residents in areas where offices were originally scheduled for closure.


ADOT is working with the cities of St. Johns, Williams and Willcox and the town of Clifton to try to establish an alternate MVD office location or provide a third-party service that conducts MVD business. These four MVD offices, along with eight others, were scheduled for closure as ADOT manages a $100 million budget shortfall that requires a reduction in operations and services.


By the end of business today, ADOT will have closed eight of its 61 MVD offices due to ongoing budget constraints. These include both full-time and part-time offices. The offices are located in Ajo, Benson, Bisbee, central Phoenix, east Mesa, Fredonia, Kearny, and Superior.


Although the eight offices will now be closed, ADOT has been working with communities statewide for the past few months to provide options for those affected by the closures. ADOT encourages MVD customers to conduct a range of online transactions through www.ServiceArizona.com or by visiting one of more than 140 third party locations statewide. A complete listing of third party office locations is available at www.azmvdservices.com. Customers can also conduct MVD business by phone or by mail.


ADOT planned the closure of 12 MVD offices since last fall as part of a plan to balance the $100 million agency-wide budget shortfall tied to the state’s fiscal crisis. Declining funding for transportation and the legislature’s transfer of several hundred million dollars in transportation funds to work on the state’s overall budget deficit created the need for ADOT to map out agency service reductions.


The other four MVD offices, St. John’s, Clifton, Williams and Willcox, that had been slated to close this week will remain open for now. ADOT is actively working with these four communities to continue providing MVD services to local residents.


Employees at the closed offices are being transferred to other MVD offices to help bolster customer service at the agency’s remaining branches.


This week’s closures follow other budget-balancing moves by ADOT, including last year’s layoff of more than 100 MVD employees, the closure of 13 rest areas statewide, and reductions to construction and maintenance efforts.