Legislation For Navajo Nation And Veterans Submitted By U.S. Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick
By Kathy Helms
WINDOW ROCK – U.S. Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick has sent draft legislation to tribal and local officials which she says would give them the authority and resources they need to redevelop the former Bennett Freeze area.
“Congress sat idly by for years while Native American families paid the price for the federal government’s failed policies. I will not let the Navajo and Hopi nations be ignored again,” said Kirkpatrick, D-1st District, Arizona.
U.S. Commissioner of Indian Affairs Robert Bennett imposed the Bennett Freeze on July 8, 1966, as the result of a longstanding dispute over Navajo and Hopi reservation boundaries. The former freeze area consists of nine Navajo Nation chapters in Western Navajo Agency and encompasses 3 million acres.
More than 12,000 Navajos living in the area were subjected to a 41-year freeze on development, according to the Bureau of Indian Affairs. They suffered socially, economically, emotionally, physically, mentally, and spiritually as a result of being prohibited from building new homes, making repairs, constructing infrastructure for water and electricity, and developing roads. The freeze was lifted officially last year.
Kirkpatrick's proposed “Former Bennett Freeze Area Redevelopment Act” calls for establishing the Former Bennett Freeze Trust Fund which would be used to improve economic conditions, housing, infrastructure, health, and educational and social conditions of affected families and communities.
The bill also enables the Navajo Nation and the Hopi Tribe to take on the work of the Office of Navajo and Hopi Indian Relocation through contracting, and authorizes the office to oversee a rehabilitation program for the former Bennett Freeze area.
The bill would extend the authorization of the Navajo Rehabilitation Trust Fund and repeal the obligation of the Navajo Nation to repay money advanced to the trust fund. It also would authorize the Navajo Nation to negotiate and approve an accommodation agreement with the Hopi Tribe for Navajo families still residing on Hopi Partitioned Land who intend to remain there.
Navajo Nation President Joe Shirley Jr. said it was 17 months ago that Congress officially repealed “this dark chapter” in the Nation's relationship with the federal government.
“Thanks to the efforts of our Navajo Hopi Land Commission and Congresswoman Ann Kirkpatrick, the promise of this legislation is another great day for my elderly, my medicine people, my young, and my grandchildren who have been affected by the Bennett Freeze for more than 40 years,” he said.
Attorney James W. Zion of Albuquerque, who filed suit in August on behalf of the Forgotten People seeking an accounting of Navajo Rehabilitation Trust Fund monies, wasn't quite so enthusiastic.
“The draft is a disappointment,” Zion said Wednesday. “First, it is authorization legislation, not required by the Constitution, and all it would do is set up a new trust to be funded from sources that are not likely, and authorize appropriations that will never come.
“It is curious that a new trust fund is being proposed when we don't know what the situation with the current one happens to be,” he said. “Navajos should not be given false promises of 'authorization' legislation unless the means to back it up in appropriations are there.”
Meanwhile, the Forgotten People, a grassroots group made up of former Bennett Freeze residents and relocatees, have stopped waiting on the tribe and the federal government to begin rebuilding. Through community-led redevelopment projects in partnership with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Home Depot of Flagstaff, they have constructed safe drinking water systems, and with the help of Indian Health Service and EPA, have built bathrooms sanitation systems for nine homes in Black Falls.
Navajo Hopi Land Commission Office Executive Director Roman Bitsuie, who was named in the suit filed by Zion, said there is not enough time this year to see Kirkpatrick's bill through to passage, but he hopes it will be introduced soon and that congressional action will be completed by early 2011. He estimated redevelopment costs at $1 billion to $4.5 billion.
Zion said no real money is identified in the draft legislation. “Set-asides of small percentages from the BIA Indian Programs budget, the Indian Housing Block Grant Program, and Rural Development Program are really an attempted earmark, and the other beneficiaries of such programs will likely block any such measure.”
The Bureau of Indian Affairs' proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2011 includes an increase of $1.2 million to begin redeveloping the former freeze area. The funds would be used to implement rangeland inventories, set stocking rates for grazing permittees, maintain and replace water storage tanks and windmills, and develop stock ponds and springs.
Congress Passes NHA Legislation To Expand Housing Assistance For Native Veterans And Families
Submitted by Christian Bigwater
Navajo Housing Authority
WINDOW ROCK, Ariz. – The United States Senate voted unanimously last night to pass the Navajo Housing Authority’s (NHA) top legislative priority for the 111th Congress, a bill that expands housing opportunities for disabled Native Veterans and family members of deceased servicemen and women.
Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick introduced the Indian Veterans Housing Opportunity Act of 2010 (HR 3553), last September at the request NHA’s Board of Commissioners. The bill passed the U.S. House of Representatives on April 20 meaning that last night’s Senate vote sends the bill to President Barack Obama for his signature. The President is expected to sign the bill into federal law within days.
“At first glance this is a very technical bill, but the impact on Veterans and their families will be tremendous,” NHA CEO Aneva J. Yazzie said. “I want to personally thank Congresswoman Kirkpatrick for her leadership on this issue. She really was the driving force behind passing this bill.”
HR 3553 amends the definition of “income” under the Native American Housing Assistance and Self-Determination Act, the 1996 statute governing the Indian Housing Block Grant program. By excluding payments from the Veterans Administration for service-related disabilities and survivor benefits from counting as income, more Veterans will qualify for assistance.
“The Navajo Housing Authority and other leaders in the Veterans, tribal, and housing communities have fought long and hard to get this done, and I am honored to have had the chance to stand with them and make their voices heard,” Rep. Kirkpatrick said. “The passage of the Indian Veterans Housing Opportunity Act is a great victory for Indian Country and a critical step in the ongoing struggle to make Washington keep its promises to our military men and women.”
Senate efforts were spearheaded by Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Senator John Thune (R-SD) making it a truly bi-partisan and nation-wide effort.
NHA Board Chairman Leonard Teller, himself a Veteran of the U.S. Marine Corp, shared his praises for Congresswoman Kirkpatrick and her efforts as well as those of other Members of Congress including retiring Senate Indian Affairs Committee Chairman Byron Dorgan (D-ND).
“Some people complain about how hard it is to get things done in Washington, but complaints are no substitute for leadership. We are very lucky to have Ms. Kirkpatrick working for us in Congress and her ability to get others to rally around this cause was amazing,” Teller said. “Capitol Hill is a tough environment, but as we can see today, sometimes it’s worth a fight to do the right thing.”
TO SUBMIT an ARTICLE, OPINION PIECE, COMMENTS to the Native Unity Digest, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Native Unity Digest stories are now appearing on the BeforeIt'sNews.com site under the Native American News category. Check them out!!!!
News Blog - American Indian Report - AIR BLOG
THE BUFFALO POST - Missoulian Montana's Native News Blog about Native People And The World We Live In.
NATIVE AMERICA, DISCOVERED AND CONQUERED
PATHOLOGY.ORG - Up-to-date informmational database on general health and disease information, medical schools and medical resources.
FOR ANNIE'S NATIVE CELEBRITY NEWS - go to http://www.nativecelebs.com/
SUPPORTING NATIVE AMERICAN/FIRST PEOPLE - ARTISTS, FILM MAKERS, ENTERTAINERS, ETC.