Navajo 'Vet' Meeting Chaotic: Shouting Match Ensues
By Kathy Helms
GANADO, Ariz. – To say that Tuesday's meeting of Navajo Nation veterans at Ganado Chapter House descended into chaos would be putting it mildly.
Tempers flared and four-letter words ricocheted off the walls in a take-no-prisoners confrontation of frustrated veterans against a perceived enemy – the Department of Navajo Veterans Affairs.
An elderly Navajo medicine man, adorned in turquoise, walked to the front of the room with the aid of a cane and took the microphone, urging calm and asking everyone to work together. When he dropped his cane, no one offered to assist him.
Accusations abounded, including insinuations that Navajo Nation Vice President Ben Shelly was there for political purposes. However, Eastern Agency Commander Leon Curley set the record straight, telling everyone that Shelly and his wife were invited guests.
“It's not politically motivated. I wanted them to hear what we veterans are going through. I invited him here to listen to our concerns,” Curley said.
Western Agency Commander Ricky Gray of Kayenta, a U.S. Navy Desert Storm veteran, went up to each commander seated at a long table in front of the room, repeating the same question: “The Department of Navajo Veterans Affairs, has it worked for you, yes or no?” Each one responded with a firm “No.” Gray then asked the veterans in the audience the same question. Again, the answer was “No.”
“And it has not worked for me,” he responded. “Plain and simple, the DNVA does not work for the Navajo veterans.” It was the one thing they did agree on.
Gray pointed to 75-year old Nathan Etsitty Sr. who submitted a request for housing assistance 15 years ago. Two months ago, on April 5, Etsitty received a letter from DNVA giving him 30 days to get his housing application updated.
“Fifteen years, that gentleman finally got a letter saying, 'You have to come back in and complete your package.' What's wrong with that Mr. Shelly? Fifteen years!”
Etsitty said later that at first he didn't even know why he received the letter. It was so long ago, he didn't remember applying.
“It's been about 15 years ago that I requested for assistance. I go between Window Rock and Tuba City. When I go to Window Rock they tell me I'm under Western Agency. When I go to Western Agency, they say, 'Go to the Window Rock.' When I go to Window Rock they say there's no veteran money. So that's it. I gave up.
“I got this letter and it says I got to go through a lot of red tape again, see all these people, and go to the chapter again. They requested for this again and they just give me 30 days, but I don't have time so I don't bother with it any more. I just leave it alone. Evidently, I don't get any kind of help,” he said.
The Department of Navajo Veterans Affairs was established within the Executive Branch in 1972 to fund programs and services that will benefit Navajo Veterans. It operates under the Division of Human Resources.
In 2007, a special review by the Office of the Auditor General found a number of deficiencies within the program. In just one example, auditors looked at 157 financial assistance disbursements totaling $36,610 from general fund and Veteran Trust Fund disbursements for emergency/hardship, transportation, traditional healing ceremony, and honor/color guard. Of those, 115 discrepancies were found for a total of $23,492 in questionable costs.
This past March, auditors recommended sanctions against the department for failure to implement corrective actions. Human Services approved the recommendation and Budget and Finance Committee reluctantly imposed sanctions in May.
“I'm in the process of starting an organization – Dine Veterans Against Corruption,” Curley said. “We're going to be able to fund ourselves, so all this dead weight that we have in the DNVA is going to have to be responsible and accountable for everything that they do.”
Gray told them, “Greed is what's tearing us apart. We need to come together. ... We need to stand up for ourselves the same way we stood up for our country. We need to stop feeling sorry for ourselves. We need to stop depending on our politicians.
“We will bring the DNVA down. No more! DNVA is not working. So I propose to abolish DNVA – fire every single one of them. Have no mercy, as they have no mercy on us,” he said, to a round of applause.
Milton Bluehouse Sr., Fort Defiance Agency commander, read from a letter he sent May 27 to David Nez, DNVA department director, requesting his presence at the meeting. Nez did not attend.
“There are times I say to myself, 'What in the world am I doing with this group?' We call a meeting and no one is there,” Bluehouse said. “And there are times I get out of bed and say, 'I'm just going to forget it and do my own thing.'
“At the same time, there's something way down deep. I see a veteran walking around in Gallup, one third of his upper pants is wet. I see a mother veteran wheeling a little child along the road, trying to hitchhike; not even a dollar in her hand, probably no job, probably not receiving a benefit. That's what causes one to get up and go again, one more time,” he said.
Jackie Burbank, a former commander for Chinle Agency, told them, “There's no communication, there's no cooperation, there's no coordination. There's no respect from Window Rock. But help is on the way. A new administration is going to come in. We're going to do away with the oversight committee.”
Window Rock doesn't want the agency commanders to have any authority, he said. “They want the control at DNVA. I don't like the Department of Navajo Veterans Affairs staff stealing from the veterans. That's the way it is now.” He advised the group to hold on to the “Veterans Act,” their plan of operation, until the new administration comes in. “That's the only way they're going to listen to us,” he said.
Vice President Shelly told veterans they need to get together, organize, and decide what to do, because next year, they will have fewer Council delegates and fewer oversight committees.
“They almost have to be on their own – a separate group,” he said later. Rather than being directly under the Navajo Nation, the veterans could band together and either charter or incorporate themselves. They already have executive order land in Crownpoint that was set aside over three years ago for a headquarters.
“You can get direct funding from Washington and the states if you're a division or a department. The Veterans Act they're talking about is the plan of operation that they're under right now. It's just a program. A program is not strong. You can't have Washington deal with a veterans program. It only deals with a department or division. So they need to get rid of that and replace it with a department or division.”
By doing so, Shelly said, all veterans benefits would come to their headquarters and they could take care of themselves. “The trustee could still be the tribe – just like some of the enterprises we've got. You've got some real sharp people out there, retired veterans that have degrees. They should be running that headquarters.”
TO SUBMIT an ARTICLE, OPINION PIECE, COMMENTS to the Native Unity Digest, e-mail email@example.com.
NATIVE UNITY - A place for Native American Peoples to solidify their tribes to make a positive impact on the cultural, social, economic and political fabric of American society and a place for non-Natives to better understand the ways of the American Indian.
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 PRIDE- It's a great site!
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 www.nativecelebs.com
SUPPORTING NATIVE AMERICAN/FIRST PEOPLE - ARTISTS, FILM MAKERS, ENTERTAINERS, ETC.