Navajo Utah Commission acts on proposals for roads, law enforcement

Members of the Navajo Utah Commission passed resolutions related to roads and law enforcement, received reports on transit routes, food banks, and other topics at their latest meeting.
At the April 12 meeting of the Navajo Utah Commission representatives from the Utah chapters as well as members of the Navajo Nation Council who represent Navajo Utahns passed three resolutions.
Among the resolutions was a request of the Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT) to prioritize funding for the Environmental Impact Statement for the proposed road between Oljato and Navajo Mountain.
The $4 million statement would be an early step in creating a road to connect Navajo Mountain to Oljato as well as highway 276 by creating a bridge over the San Juan River.
At the meeting the commission also unanimously approved resolutions regarding agreements between San Juan County and the Navajo Nation.
One resolution requested that the San Juan County Commission and the San Juan County Sheriff’s Office finalize a draft of the mutual aid agreement between the county and the Navajo Nation to submit the document for review by tribal leadership.
The proposed agreement would allow cross-deputization of sheriff deputies to aid in law enforcement efforts within the reservation.
Members of the Navajo Utah Commission also approved a resolution supporting the 2020 agreement between San Juan County and the Navajo Nation to allow the county to maintain bus routes on the reservation.
The April 12 resolution also urges the Navajo Nation Division of Transportation to identify and dedicate funding necessary to comply with the costs associated with the agreement.
During their meeting members of the commission also heard reports including from several different groups including the Navajo Nation’s Transit System.
Navajo Transit System director Tanya Jim reported on the department's work including planning stages of re-establishing current routes that were closed and possibly creating new routes.
Jim reported that funds that had previously come from the state of Utah created restrictions on how transit systems connected and with funds now coming from the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) there is more flexibility for routes.
Currently there is one route in San Juan County, it starts at the Red Mesa Chapter house weekdays at 6:00 am, travels through Aneth, Montezuma Creek, Bluff and arrives in Blanding at 8:00 am. The return route leaves Blanding at 5:00 pm and returns to Red Mesa Chapter house at 7:00 pm.
Jim and members of the commission planned a work session to discuss possible alternatives in the area. Jim added that the Navajo Transit System wants to do a feasibility study looking at demographics in different areas, and survey communities to see who would utilize transit services and where they would be beneficial. Surveying the community is of importance as well due to some high costs of maintaining routes alongside a shortage of drivers.
Members of the commission thanked the department for their open communication and suggested one important need would include interconnecting services to take riders between Shiprock and Kayenta.
While riding Navajo Transit usually costs two-dollars, the ride fees have been waived during the pandemic and are anticipated to remain waived at least through the fall.
At the meeting members also heard from the Utah Food Bank on their efforts to expand their presence in San Juan County. The Utah Food Bank is a nearly 120-year-old organization that addresses food insecurity in the state by providing food to partner organizations to distribute for free.
The organization reports delivering 58.5 million meals last year; some of those were served at the food pantries in Blanding and Bluff.
Ginette Bott, CEO of Utah Food Bank reported on the organization's recent efforts in the area to majorly expand services. Among the efforts includes the purchase of a 7 acre parcel in Blanding where they intend to build an 18,000 square foot warehouse, along with a greenhouse and community garden.
Bott explained the warehouse will allow for easier distribution to two facilities the group has targeted on the Navajo Nation.
One of the 4,000 square food pantries will be in Montezuma Creek, as Utah Food Bank has secured property next to the dollar store. The organization has had troubles however locating land in Monument Valley.
Bott explained they attempted to buy or lease land owned by the San Juan School District but was shut down, an attempt to build next to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints building was also declined.
Utah Food Bank reported wanting to be close to schools to access families in a well traveled area, as well as provide job opportunities in the pantries and the Blanding warehouse. With funding from state and federal agencies needing to be spent in a little over a year Bott came to the commission to ask for help in the area.
Commissioner Curtis Yanito of the Mexican Water chapter shared there may be availability to rent space at the old hospital in Monument Valley. Council Delegate Herman Daniels also recommended notifying the community to see if there are community members that might have availability for the food bank.
At the meeting the commission also received a report from the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources (DWR) on the 270 deer permits set aside for members of the Navajo Nation. The permits agreement relates back to the Navajo Treaty of 1868.
Southeast Utah Regional Supervisor Chris Wood shared that each summer the division visits chapter houses over three days to sell permits. This July 27-29 the division will visit Aneth, Navajo Mountain, and Oljato Chapter houses to sell the 250 deer permits in the southeast region and 20 in the southern region.
Following a question, Wood clarified that while family and guides can help elders in their hunt, the person who pulls the trigger must be the person whose name is on the permit.
When asked about using animal parts from roadkill for traditional purposes Wood advised community members to call local DWR officers first to assess if the animals can be donated to the person requesting it.
At the meeting the commission also discussed the 32 point agreement between the Navajo Nation and Elk Petroleum, including discussions about updating the agreement as some in the commission shared frustrations with the execution of the agreement. 
The commission also discussed Navajo Nation legislation 0054-22 which is currently being debated amongst members of the Navajo Nation Council.
The resolution would repeal parts of the Diné Marriage Act of 2005, and would acknowledge and recognize marriage equality among all people.
The discussion amongst the Navajo Utah Commission regarding the bill was done almost completely in the Navajo language.

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