Navajo Utah discusses ARPA, ICWA, firewood
By David Boyle
The Navajo Utah Commission received reports on American Rescue Plan Act projects, the future of the Indian Child Welfare Act, and approved four resolutions as part of their latest meeting.
At their December 9 meeting members of the Navajo Utah Commission heard a report from the Navajo Nation hired Utah lobbyist Moroni Benally.
While the Utah state legislative session doesn’t start until January 17 Benally reported on proposals being discussed ahead of the session.
Among those include the Governor’s proposed budget that would increase teacher salaries by $6,000. Other proposals of interest to Utah Navajo as well as $5 million for facilities at Utah State University in Monument Valley, $115 million for rural broadband, a grocery tax credit, and a reduction of income tax.
Benally also reported on a bill that would create a domestic violence task force as well as a proposal for consistent sustainable funding for domestic violence shelters including the Gentle IronHawk Shelter in Blanding.
Other highlighted concerns include addressing the water crisis across the state.
One proposed bill would eliminate state honor days, although Benally reports after holding conversations with the legislative author the proposed bill will not impact Navajo Code Talker Days or Indigenous Peoples Day.
One of the biggest items from the session will be the potential passage of a state Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA).
Benally shared that the state ICWA bill has support from several members of Utah state leadership. Including Utah Lt. Governor Deidre Henderson who tweeted: “A Tribe is a political and governmental classification, not a racial one. Utah supports the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) and will seek to codify it to protect the 8 federally recognized Native American tribes in our state.”
The state ICWA act is being considered right as the constitutionality of the federal ICWA is being debated in the US Supreme Court.
The United States Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978 established standards regarding the placing of Native American children in foster care. The act gave tribal governments jurisdiction for children in need of foster care on reservations.
For children living off-reservation that need to be placed in foster care, the act gives preference of care to extended family members, if they are unavailable preference is given to members of the child's tribe, if unavailable preference is then given to Indian families.
The United States Supreme Court heard the case Haaland v. Brackeen in November of 2022. The ruling on that case could potentially overturn the federal act.
In anticipation of that, tribal leaders in states across the US have been pushing for state ICWA laws including in Utah.
At their latest meeting members of the Navajo Utah Commission heard presentations from Mary Descheeny-Reyna, MSW Program Manager II, and Crescentia Tso, MSW Unit Supervisor of the Navajo Nation Division of Social Services regarding ICWA.
The 16-person staff works to advocate for Dine children to grow up in Navajo Homes. The organization is handling over 350 cases across the US.
ICWA social workers work to ensure that ICWA is followed with emphasis to prevent the breakup of Indian families. If children cannot remain home with parents, social workers ensure placement preferences are followed.
At the meeting members of the Navajo Utah Commission also heard a report on proposed American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) appropriations among Utah Chapters.
At the meeting Calvin Tsosie, Senior Program & Projects Specialist at the Kayenta administrative service center office presented on the proposed projects for Utah chapters with allocations of ARPA funds
Among the proposals include $4 million for the Oljato Chapter to provide 38 bathroom additions.
Naa’Tsis’Aan (Navajo Mountain) Chapter has proposed allocating $580,000 for bathroom additions, $1.3 million for house electric wiring, and $1.6 million for water line extensions.
Dennehotso chapter projects include $1.2 million for a chapter warehouse, $228,000 for bathroom additions, $185,000 for septic tank cleanings, $1 million for housing unhoused chapter members, and $550,000 for heavy equipment.
Mexican Water projects include a backhoe for $206,000, a warehouse for $1.2 million, bathroom additions for $80,000, and housing for $207,000
Teec Nos Pos projects include $114,000 for housing homeless, $180,000 for septic tank cleaning, $206,000 for a backhoe, $100,000 for rural addressing, $160,000 for bathroom additions and over $300,000 for scattered powerline projects.
Aneth Chapter plans to use its funds towards a new chapter house and a water purification system.
The Red Mesa chapter was finalizing its plans for the funds at a meeting held after the Navajo Utah Commission meeting on December 9.
Members of the commission also heard a report from nonprofit Utah Dine Bikeyah regarding research and policy recommendations related to firewood gathering.
Among the concerns addressed in the presentation were how to overcome barriers to wood haulers, retrofitting homes with fuel-efficient stoves to combat the long-term decline of available wood, and exploring incubating a wood hauling business to contract on the large scale needed by federal agencies for preventative fire treatment on the Bears Ears National Monument. Instead of burnings in the monument fuels could be reduced by cooking off-site and offering free or low-cost fuel to Indigenous wood haulers.
Members of the commission voted to table a resolution for firewood policy recommendations to allow more time to review those recommendations.
The Navajo Utah Commission also passed four resolutions at the meeting.
One requests the Navajo Nation Department of Historic Preservation to expedite the culture report to help the Navajo Mountain Chapter fiber optic expansion projects right of way application.
Another resolution passed supported a Utah house concurrent resolution that acknowledges and highlights the history, culture, and contributions of the Native American Peoples of Utah. The resolution also encourages educational entities to emphasize teaching about Utah’s eight tribal nations and encourages schools with mascots of indigenous peoples to create a dialogue with local Indigenous communities.
Another resolution requested the Utah Navajo Revitalization Fund (NRF) board authorize the extension of six grants from the NRF set to expire at the end of 2023. Another resolution requested the NRF amend one of the grants to allow for leftover funds from a powerline project to go towards a solid waste drop-off box station project for the Aneth Chapter.