LETTER: Navajo Division of Economic mainly wants to waive sovereign immunity to outside Corporations
July 29 | The Navajo Post Sunday Letter to the Editor Edition
By: Lester Begay Burnham, NM
Navajo Business owner.
After the Wall Street scandal a lot of American workers lost their jobs and lost their pension through Wall Street investments and Housing Market debacle. I lost hope in my retirement investments and it was from that moment I knew I would never see it and get to enjoy it, when I retired or I am unable to work.
I move back to Navajo Rez in September 2009, I said good-bye to lot of my white friends, told them I planned to start me a Livestock feed store back home, I would get help from Navajo Division of Economic with my business start-up and possibly a business loan too. I would buy alfalfa hay at wholesale from our Navajo Tribal owned NAPI farms. I even bragged and kid about our Navajo Nation, new Casino’s popping up everywhere that I invited them to come visit me at my Casino. I be in a white Tuxedo with my limo Chauffer.
I was in no rush with my Feed store project and worked on our family house the first year, before I would start on my feed store project, It sounded so simply at first not knowing I would run into economic barriers after one another. Some would describe this as a government red-tape.
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On my first attempt to deal and purposed a business plan with NAPI, they refused my offer to buy three semi-tractor trailer load of alfalfa hay a week, Crop manager confronted me and said, “why should we sell it to you cheaper and you go sell it for more”. I thought he was kidding. Later, I found, I was not the first Navajo, that been denied of such business opportunity to buy alfalfa hay for my business
I refuse to leave my home, my Indian country as I was advise by some of my well respected friends that I would only go broke on the Rez and fall in with the rest of the 50% un-employed Navajos, which is a Navajo Nation Business fact in unemployment; then poverty follows, they warned me. I decided to live the issue and get my first experience with Navajo Nation poor economy.
Why, did I pick a feed Store, it was a dream since I was a kid, politicians planted that dream in my head, They gave speeches in BIA boarding schools, year round. They would preach, go get an education, come back, help your people, and NAPI is yours for taking. Over and over, I heard NAPI is the biggest Farm owned by Navajo Nation, it will create jobs and business opportunity for the Navajo people, its all about self-determination, they would reassure us.
I even heard non-politicians, well respected elders talking among themselves, how great our future is with all these Navajo Tribal owned Enterprises, such as NTUA, NECA, NAPI, NHA, and so on.
After my first negative experience with one of my dreams in running a business alone side NAPI, I wanted to know why, I wanted to know if our Navajo Politicians and our elders were telling us the truth back in the Seventies. 1970s,
I found the truth in Navajo Tribal Code book, Title 5, Commerce and Trade in the 1977 edition, it clearly states on (page 88, section 1603 Purpose)
The Purposes for which the Navajo Agriculture Products Industry organized are as follows.
- 1.) Engage in the use of the Tribe’s agricultural and related resources resulting in a profit to the tribe.
- 2.) Train Navajo people in the field of agriculture and business, including training in the management of this industry.
- 3.) Provide employment and commercial opportunities to the Navajo Tribe, its enterprises, and its individual members, in the field of agriculture and related business and industry.
These laws were passed in April 16, 1970 by our Navajo Nation Tribal Council or known as Lawmakers. 42 years later this law was never implemented. It made me think, again I ask myself what went wrong with Navajo Nation Economic Development also referred to as Indian Self-Determination Act.
Livestock reduction in 1930s, had a great negative impact on Navajo economic Prosperity, as Navajo economic was deteriorating , World War II followed, this was a bitter sweet blessing, WW II had a profound effect on the Navajo People, their active participation in the war effort at home, like Ft Wingate Army Depot, and Navajo Code talkers, serve inside enemy lines. Their service earned them respect and recognition, but economic conditions remained so poor on the Navajo Nation.
On December 2, 1947, U.S. President Harry Truman issued a statement of emergency for the Navajos and Congress provided money for a thorough investigation in the BIA’s 1948 appropriation bill, in results, It brought Navajo-Hopi Long Range Rehabilitation ACT in 1950.
The Act granted the Tribe 88 million dollars to improve living conditions and provide employment opportunities. It built much needed road and school construction , new hospitals, and other health facilities, and Congress also earmarked over 6 million dollars of the funds for Navajo irrigation projects.
One million went to economic development of industries and Navajo business opportunities. But, no Navajo was business oriented or English educated.
The peripheral town, white communities including Williams, Flagstaff, Winslow, and Holbrook, Arizona and Gallup and Farmington New Mexico through their Chamber of Commerce organizations have indicated to the Navajo tribe, That Navajo people are not train or experience in any kind of construction field, or business oriented in management skills and it was true in 1950.
Border town was born, they seen the opportunities with Navajo Nation ever since, we Navajo People depended on Border towns for jobs and other opportunities like education and business to this day.
I want to do business here on the Navajo Nation, but where is the good place to put a feed store, I traveled from one end to the other end of the Navajo Reservation. I did see lot of brand new pick-up trucks and horse trailers, but most Agency towns were run down, trading post abandoned.
I notice Mexicans hauling coals, and hay, this got my attention, I was leaving Gallup notice T&R Market had a big inventory of coal, woods and hay. T&R Market made million dollars on hay, coal and woods sales. And where is all this money coming from was my next question.
United States government been appropriating 5 billon dollars for low income energy assistance. Multi-billion dollars farm subsidies, and over 100 million dollars been pump into our Navajo Nation Economic Development and Community Development and not much to show for.
TANF programs and other social welfare recipients flowed into Border towns 1st of the month, I follow these people back into border towns in the middle of the months, and they shop at Pawn shops, well not exactly, they pawning personal jewels or other values. You look closely most of these Pawns shops are the New Generation of the past Reservation Trading Post families. Majority move into Border towns to wait for the whole Reservation to come to them since highways were constructed.
I ask myself does our Navajo Nation Economy know about this?
Yes they did and they still do, Navajo Division of Economic knew everything about the Navajo people flock into Border towns every week. They do lot of professional presentation in Window Rock and border towns. I went to few of their conference meetings, they got the best Comprehensive Economic Development strategy plan-one would think, as I leave the conference Im all motivated as I get back into Navajo Reservation, prosperity disappear it seems like. Next day, you see the same ole undeveloped rez again.
Inside the 2009-2010 Navajo Nation Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy book with all the data’s. NAPI Infrastructure is valued at 5.2 Billion dollars, and only employs approximately 110 permanent Navajos for decades and depended on Federal funds for years.
Over 400 million dollars been pumped into this (For Profit) tribal enterprises and has not make a return to Navajo People. Anderson Grain & hay from Washington, has a contract with NAPI, this company created hundred of jobs from Farmington to Japan and it don’t benefit any of the Navajo People living on the Rez. Brazil Cattle Co, also lease NAPI feedlot with 10,000 cattle, this Company makes over billion dollars and also created hundred of jobs but not here also.
January 2012, Navajo Division of Economic Chief Financial Officers presented at San Juan College and pointed out NAPI contribute 30 million dollars in 4 Corners. “NAPI has its own stand-alone approach to industry development. There is a wealth of programs that we have yet to realize,” he said. I ask myself how can a 5.2 billion dollar farm only employee 110 Navajos and obviously the 30 million is going into Farmington business only.
I went to another Division of Economic presentation in Window Rock, a delegation of different Russian Chamber of Commerce were their guest. I watched through out the day. When the delegation heard 3 Billion dollars is leaking into border town of Farmington, NM. It got their attention and heard big commotion among themselves. This answered some of my questions.
For years European and other states been interested in our Navajo Nation economy and border towns. Asian business took over majority of old buildings and motels and turn into prosperous business in border towns. People from other states been moving here, due to no earth quakes, floods, and clear skies which makes border towns a prime locations.
Trading Post figured this out 30 years ago, why not move into border towns and wait for the whole reservation people come to their pawnshops and jewelry stores instead of only serve one community. This explain T&R Market and abandon trading posts. Oil Companies has another strategy, they now can monopoly the reservation gas station.
Most Navajo business are mobile like tire sales and repair, windshields repairs, cafes, coal sales, and hay sales. Leases and infrastructure are not readily available, Business loans are not readily available to small Navajo business and not only they don’t want to jump all the hoops and get turn down for a loan that requires excellent credit rating. Even micro-loans are design for 3rd world country, those loans also need excellent credit rating.
Most Navajo are victims of economic downturns like housing market crash, Wallstreet scandals and no place to go but home on the Rez and as time goes with unemployment compensation their credit deteriorates. So later when they finally decide to start a small business or self-employed they have bad credit and well never qualify for a business loan even a mirco-loan which was supposedly designed for 3rd world country like our Navajo Nation.
No Navajo business growth on the Reservation, mostly Business Regulatory, Department and Economic Development department are to blame as no communication and poor telepath. E-mails goes un-responded. Cell towers located far away from business location like Shonto Junction, Inscription house junction where there is lot of business transaction takes place, but can’t use any credti card machines due to bad signals in these areas.
We don’t have a wholesale market on the Navajo Nation. Border towns already monopolized the wholesale market so its hard to get on that action to put a store on the rez.
Navajo Division of Economic mainly wants to waive sovereign immunity to outside Corporation so that will bring jobs. This tells me, they are not willingly to work with small Navajo Business on the Reservation. Most of the federal Mulit-Million dollars earmark for Navajo economic development are spend on big projects, and like gas station then leased to outside non-Navajo companies. DOJ and DED are not willingly to lower the credit rating on Micro-loans are some evident they are not willingly to work with small business.
Until Division of Economic start working with small Navajo Business people then this well move.
The market is here on the Rez, if only all Tribal Enterprise, tribal government, and BIA government would use Navajo business like buying tires and windows from these Nava jo business, this would also keep the sales tax right here on the rez. It up to Navajo Business Regulator to implement this process with a excellent Division of Economic Director.
Navajo Nation is like a big mountain with a hugh snow pack, all the run offs flows into surrounding Border towns. We are here, the market is here, and the money is here, until Navajo Government understands that, we will be prosperous.