Purchase of Navajo Mine: Response to Speaker Johnny Naize

by Brandon Benallie

October 24, 2013

I am dismayed by Speaker Naize's guest column in last week's Navajo Times. In fact, the timing of the column and the approval of the mine purchase says much about Naize's unwillingness to debate the merits of his letter and his leadership.

The following is addressed to him:

Honorable Speaker Naize.

You stated, "As speaker and as a co-sponsor of the legislation, it is my obligation to not only do what is best for our Diné people in the present time, but to also act in the best interest of future generations to come."

What exactly do you see is the best interest of the future generations of Diné? "It's for our best interest" is a rhetorical phrase used by countless uninspiring politicians that only encourages the complacency within our government and placates and confines any challenge or critical analysis that may arise.

As far as I know, not a single Navajo Nation government official today has ever written down or publicly described in extensive detail what they envision to be the future of Diné people.

We must ask these questions and demand their answers so that we may understand the ideological and philosophical reasoning behind the decisions politicians such as yourself make in our supposed best interest.

We, then, must take it one step further by questioning and debating the legitimacy of politicians posing as leaders.

You justified the actions of council with the following, "With that in mind, I strongly believe that the purchase of Navajo Mine fulfills both of those obligations by preserving jobs, revenue, and family life for employees of the mine and the Four Corners Power Plant..."

Diné jobs, revenue, and preserving a certain quality of life is where the discussion gets tough. It is also where many of us split into separate camps because we view jobs, revenue, and quality of life differently. What is our definition of an indigenous, decolonized economy, and what is our definition of success? Critical analysis doesn't only apply to elected officials sustaining a colonial system of governance, it applies to us, the individuals who seek liberation, as well.

You continued your argument, "...while also tasking the NTEC with researching, developing, and transitioning to more efficient and sustainable energy sources."

NTEC, the Navajo Transitional Energy Company, sounds attractive: a company tasked to research and implement alternative energy solutions for the Navajo Nation.

However, it appears to be a mere afterthought as NTEC was solely created, just like the Navajo Nation Council, to sustain a non-renewable, dying energy industry that continues to oppress, hinder, and marginalize any attempt by the people of the Navajo Nation to attain a truly sovereign identity.

Until NTEC offers a time-line detailing when this transitional oppression will be complete, it will only exist as a few good words on some legislative paper that has zero teeth.

You also argued that "For the Nation, it would mean losing approximately thirty-two percent of its general fund revenue, used by programs that provide direct services to many of our people."

Are we a truly sovereign nation if we continue to depend on our oppressors? For over 90 years we have stayed in a toxic relationship with energy companies yet we are still no closer to a sovereign future.

In fact we are even more vulnerable and further from becoming an independent nation because now they, the energy companies, are preying on our desperate dependency to offload their scraps and liabilities upon us.

You observed that "Although some individuals have and will criticize the potential acquisition of Navajo Mine, it is my belief that doing so will allow us to determine how we, as Diné, will manage and use our own resources in a manner that will bring prosperity and balance to our people."

Based on my interaction and participation in several grassroots organizations on Diné bikeyah, I'd say there's easily more people who have criticized the mine than those who will benefit from its purchase.

Instigating and prolonging internal strife has long been a tool used by our oppressors. This isn't about the miners versus the activists, this isn't about traditionalist versus modernity. This is about the oppressed versus the oppressors.

Yet, you continue to marginalize and gloss over the health hazards and other negative effects of keeping the mine open. Then you throw in some tripe about bringing balance and prosperity to our people.

A good start to bringing balance and prosperity to our people would be to remove all politicians involved in the misuse of discretionary funds. As we've seen in other editions of the Navajo Times, this includes you.

Your final claim is that "The purchase of the mine would bring us a step closer to truly defining our own future by creating the resources that will lead to a renewed and sustainable future for our people."

Since its inception, the implementation of this deal has been rushed and minimally offered for true debate.

I can only see it as what it is: an act of desperation by elected officials who lack vision, courage, and the will to engage the citizens of Diné on the future of Diné.

It is more apparent than ever that we are in danger as long as government is left to politicians like yourself.