Education Committee hears concerns from Diné College students

WINDOW ROCK, Ariz. – The Education Committee of the 21st Navajo Nation Council received and accepted a report from Georgette Cook, the president of the Associated Students of Diné College, and from other members of the student government requesting intervention on behalf of students from Diné College in matters affecting the school.


The report submitted to the Education Committee requested the support for the removal of members of Diné College Board of Regents. The students were supported by fellow students from Fort Lewis College and San Juan College, who were also present at the meeting.


Council Delegate Willie Tracey Jr. (Ganado/Kinlichee) reminded Cook of her power as a student and a member of the Board of Regents.


“You are a board member and a Board of Regents member,” Tracey said. “You have equal powers and opportunity and you have every right to share with us. You have some equal rights to secure information you need.”


Cook informed the committee of past attempts to resolve matters with the other Board of Regents at the college.


“We have not heard anything back from the Board of Regents and therefore, we don’t have a way to give papers, such as this report to them,” Cook said. “When we give papers to the board, they give it to their lawyer and their lawyer’s response is not to comment or look at the documents.”


“I am pretty sure you, the committee, can understand where we are taking this and what we are doing is what we believe in,” Cook added. “The Board of Regents did violate several Navajo Nation Codes, specifically the Navajo Nation Preference Law.”


Recently, the Board of Regents appointed Ronald R. Belloli, vice president of Administration and Finance, as acting-President of the college. The student representatives claim Belloli lacks qualifications for the position and that the Board of Regents violated the Navajo Nation Preference Law because of Belloli’s non-Navajo status.


“Mr. Belloli has no more experience then those individuals listed in the report,” Cook said. “This list includes six Navajo people who have higher degrees. Mr. Belloli only has a Bachelor’s degree. To retain and hire any employee, the Navajo Preference Law says Navajo. Why is a non-Navajo man who has a B.A. chosen over qualified Navajos with PhDs?”


Chief Legislative Counsel Frank Seanez informed the Education Committee of its powers and authorities over the matter and said, “The Education Committee is the oversight committee of colleges and universities on the Navajo Nation. However, under current law, the Education Committee doesn’t have power to appoint the Board of Regents, which responsibility lies with the Government Services Committee.”


“The Government Services Committee received a report from Diné College staff and that report was given to the Education Committee for fact finding,” Seanez explained. “That report was finalized in late December of 2008. The report had a number of recommendations regarding the operation of Diné College, as well as the Board of Regents.”


“The committee as well requested and directed monthly reports of the Board relative to actions taken by Board and recommendations by the Education Committee,” Seanez added. “The Education Committee is still maintaining oversight of Diné College. The action taken by Diné College Board of Regents…it may be that if those bylaws are not yet in place that the remaining problems that are appearing today will reoccur until those bylaws are enacted.”


Council Delegate Leonard Chee (Birdsprings/Leupp/Tolani Lake), former chairman of the Education Committee, said during his tenure as a Board of Regents’ member, he never really witnessed encounters such as the current situation between Diné College and its president. He said the situation can be resolved. 


“It’s sad to hear there are problems there at the college knowing how much time and money has been invested into the college by the tribal council,” Chee said. “However, it’s not too late for all parties to sit down and resolve those issues. The college is there for students, our culture and language.”
Chee also mentioned how it is a matter of the Board of Regents having to work together and listen to the needs of the students and communities as to what is needed in the Navajo educational system.


“If any of that is lacking then there are problems. The Board of Regents needs to know their roles as policy-makers not as administrators,” Chee said. “To me, the college has a lot of potential and a lot of opportunities for the people. Overall, in looking at the Navajo educational systems, there are no problems with our students and learners; it’s just that it’s those who become Board of Regents and Administrators that make learning difficult for students. As board members and delegates, we owe it to our children to create and establish proper learning environments.”


Council Delegate Ida Nelson (Red Rock) agreed with Chee’s stance on the situation regarding Diné College and expressed the need for presidential interference regarding the Board of Regents because the president is the one who appoints the regents.


“We are the lawmakers and policy-makers and who is the one to intervene?” Nelson questioned. “Where is the President? He is the one who appointed the Board of Regents. We are supposed to have a representative here from the President’s office, but that individual is never here.”


Cook also mentioned in the beginning of this process, she and other students informed Navajo President Joe Shirley Jr. and his Chief of Staff on the student matters at Diné College because President Shirley is one who appoints the Board of Regent members from the five Navajo Nation Agencies — subject to confirmation by the Education Committee.


“We have written a letter to make the President aware of what his appointees are doing,” Cook said. “The day the students and I went to the president’s office, he was not there only Chief of Staff Patrick Sandoval. We informed Sandoval of what’s going on and gave him documents and asked for support. Shirley is the one who appoints these positions and doesn’t want to take responsibility.”


Another scheduled report from Andrew Tah, president of the Board of Regents, was deleted off the agenda due to the Education Committee’s directive for the Board of Regents to submit its bylaws to the committee resulting from the December 2008 Education Committee Fact-Finding Hearing Report.


The committee has allowed for the bylaws to be submitted within a 30-day time frame and may consider proposing amendments to the Navajo Nation Code following consideration of the actions taken by the Board of Regents.

Navajo President Joe Shirley, Jr., vetoes legislation that would elevate Legislative Counsel to level of Navajo Attorney General

WINDOW ROCK, Ariz. – Navajo Nation President Joe Shirley, Jr., on Saturday vetoed legislation that would increase the authority of Navajo Nation Council’s lawyer to that of the Navajo Attorney General.

The President said the Office of Legislative Counsel Amendments Act would create obvious conflicts of interest and problems for the Navajo Nation in state and federal courts.

“Leaving the political reasons Council adopted this resolution aside, this resolution is faulty on legal grounds and would obviously weaken the Navajo Nation in the area it needs the greatest strength,” President Shirley said in his veto message to Navajo Nation Council Speaker Lawrence T. Morgan.
“The Navajo Nation needs one lawyer charged with prosecuting and defending all legal actions of the Nation.  This ensures uniformity and consistency,” he said.

The amendments would “divide the legal advice and representation of governmental entities” between the two offices, he said.

They would expand the authority of the Office of Legislative Counsel to represent the Council and any Legislative Branch entity in litigation.

That would create inconsistencies in litigation, and would damage the sovereignty of the Nation and future development of Navajo law, the President said.

“If both the Attorney General and the Chief Legislative Counsel are authorized to engage in litigation, there would be two Chief Legal Officers of the Navajo Nation, each with the ability to sue, defend, and settle suits,” he said. “If the two Chief Legal Officers disagree, or if the Attorney General is simply not consulted before the Chief Legislative Counsel acts in litigation, the Nation’s sovereignty would be greatly undermined by inconsistent positions asserted before state and federal courts.”

The President also said the amendments would compromise the development of Navajo law before the Navajo courts.

“One could not overstate the importance of having a single decision-maker who has the overall best interest of the Navajo Nation in mind for litigation, specifically litigation strategy and litigation coordination,” he said.  

He said the Attorney General represents the entire Navajo Nation and takes into consideration the needs of all three branches and the 110 chapters. By comparison, the Office of Legislative Counsel represents only the Legislative Branch and does not take into consideration the needs of the entire Navajo Nation.

The President said the amendments would lead to a duplication of work, and that the Office of Legislative Counsel is not designed to handle litigation.

An area of likely conflict is the Legislative Counsel’s representation of the Navajo Board of Election Supervisors. As it is now, the Office represents the Board, the Navajo Election Administration, and the Council.

The President said delegates could file grievances against the Board for alleged violations of the election law if delegates are disqualified as candidates, if an election results in the loss of their Council seat, or if Navajo citizens file recall petitions against them.  

Under the proposed amendments, complaints against delegates and actions by the Board of Election Supervisors against Council delegates would be addressed only through the Office of Legislative Counsel.  However, there is nothing in the proposed amendments to deal with this clear conflict.  

This legislation arose after Attorney General Louis Denetsosie surprised Council delegates by recommending that Special Prosecutor Alan Balaran investigate the use of discretionary funding by Council delegates to. Mr. Balaran was named special prosecutor on Jan. 20 after a three-judge panel of the Window Rock District Court reviewed three applications.

On Dec. 28, the Attorney General asked the special division of the court to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate the tribe’s contracts with OnSat Network Communications Inc., a $2.2 million loan guarantee to BCDS Manufacturing Inc., and payments from the Navajo Nation Council’s discretionary fund to family members of several legislative branch employees.

Mr. Denetsosie asked the court to assist him to obtain $500,000 from the Budget and Finance Committee and the controller’s office to pay the special prosecutor but no funding has yet been appropriated.

He said he is bound to act on information that a violation of the tribal code may have been committed by a tribal official.

He said after the Navajo Times reported that four employees of the legislative branch had family members received more than $100,000 in assistance from the discretionary fund, his office conducted its own investigation and found grounds to recommend it be further investigated by the special prosecutor.

It is believed that if the special prosecutor remains unfunded, the investigation into the use of discretionary funds, OnSat and BCDS will be dropped. Should that occurs, it is believed the Council will sponsor legislation to further empower the Office of Legislative Counsel to hire a special prosecutor to re-open an investigation of OnSat and BCDS but not the use of discretionary funds.

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.