Discrimination: Outside Navajo Nation Borders -Tax Increase To Improve Physical and Financial Health Of Navajo Nation
By Kathy Helms
WINDOW ROCK – It is very evident from testimony presented during a series of public hearings that there are a variety of acts of discrimination occurring in border towns surrounding the Navajo Nation, according to representatives of the Navajo Nation Human Rights Commission.
Duane “Chili” Yazzie and Leonard Gorman presented the commission's findings Monday to the Navajo Nation Council.
From December 2008 through September 2009, the commission held 25 public hearings at various locations near border towns, starting with Holbrook and working clockwise around the Navajo Nation, ending in Phoenix. The hearings were attended by 447 people, of which 158 presented testimony.
“The most vulnerable Navajo is generally the older, little or no English education, physically challenged, on fixed income, indigent, and without adequate transportation. That seems to be the most that is discriminated against,” Gorman said. “The second area of finding is that Navajos are outcasts due to our distinguishing culture, beliefs and values.”
A Navajo youth in the Phoenix metropolitan area wore his hair long because his parents hold Navajo traditional values, Gorman said. “Their child has been teased and has been pushed around because of the way he wore his hair – and that is one of the unique features of the Navajo society.”
In addition, a significant number of Hopi Partitioned Land relocatees' children have been informed that they are foreigners to the communities where their parents are relocated, he said, and there is an indication that Navajos are judged by their looks and the type of clothing worn.
Navajo citizens hesitate to report these kinds of activities due to a several factors, one being fear of retaliation or some kind of embarrassment, Gorman said. Or they are unaware of their civil and human rights or available resources such as the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Despite reported abuses, a substantial amount of Navajo money ends up in the border towns. Gorman said a 2005 study by the Division of Economic Development showed that Navajos spent $1.1 billion out of pocket in the border towns. From October 2008 to June 2010, the Navajo Nation government spent $99 million, with Gallup getting $61.6 million; Flagstaff, $13.6 million; and Farmington, $7.3 million.
“These numbers come from the Office of the Controller,” from documents processed through the FMIS system, Gorman said.
Institutional racism in academic institutions where Navajos go to school also is an issue, with mainstream religions activities allowed to take place over Native American religions and cultural practices. Use of mascots and slogans that are culturally insensitive to indigenous peoples, and teachers making derogatory statements about indigenous peoples such as “load them up and take them back to the reservation,” also were noted.
Gorman said indigenous peoples do not receive the same services as non-Indians in the border towns. Navajo inmates are denied appropriate medical services because they are labeled as flight risks.
“Predatory businesses target Navajos when pawning goods, when we do our loan applications through those fast loans, for example, in the city of Gallup, and filing income taxes. Also there was indication that restaurants don't serve equally Navajos and indigenous peoples in the areas,” he said.
Many Navajos are hired as “at will” employees off the Navajo Nation and have no recourse to grieve their terminations, while Navajos who take proactive stances at work often face retaliatory treatment such as losing their jobs. Oftentimes, non-skilled non-Navajo employees are hired who are paid substantially higher than skilled Navajo employees, according to the commission.
Findings also include the need to preserve and protect the sacred sites and sacred activities by the Navajo people to ensure the continued practice of the Dine Life Way; the need to preserve and protect the environment through smoke-free public places, eliminating illegal dumping, and protection against desecration of the San Francisco Peaks.
“Forced relocation is one of the biggest issues that was brought up in the public hearings, in which Navajos want to move back to the Navajo Nation but can't find a place to live,” Gorman said. Other concerns were unresolved border issues in the Utah portion of the Navajo Nation, particularly in the Bluff area, and Navajos being subjected to outlandish sentencing.
“A Navajo person was sentenced to 15 years in prison for injuring a police office, but a Catholic bishop was sentenced to four years probation for killing a Navajo,” he said.
“There's a need for serious dialog between us and the border town municipalities. We have made the effort to try to go ahead and negotiate MOAs with them. We're in the process of doing that at the present time.”
Delegate Ben Curley told commissioners, “There's two issues that I didn't hear. One is that discrimination happens right here in Navajo. I also didn't hear anything about Navajo Nation veterans.
“Even within the Navajo Nation I believe a lot of our veterans, particularly those that are returning from Afghanistan, are discriminated against. Right now there are a number of them seeking employment but they're being told that there are no jobs,” he said.
The commission's Yazzie agreed with Curley. “Within the interior of the Nation, there is Navajo against Navajo,” he said.
Delegate Jonathan Nez proposed educating off-reservation businesses on the culture and traditions of the Navajo people, and then certifying those businesses that are “Navajo friendly.”
“Those that are not on the list, we shouldn't buy there. Maybe that way, they will look at us in a different light,” he said.
Larry Anderson's problem was not so much with the findings as with establishment of the Human Rights Commission. “How are you going to enforce these situations of discrimination and also, are you going to prosecute these individuals before the Human Rights Commission?”
Speaking from past experience, Anderson said, when they have asked the state, the counties, or nations to intervene into mistreatments of indigenous people, they find that nothing is ever done. “There's no prosecution or there's nobody being arrested or incarcerated for mistreatment of these people. There's no enforcement. There's only a gathering of mountains and mountains of information.
“Sometimes I feel that it's just a bureaucratic system again, where we cannot do anything about it because who is going to enforce it. Who is the policeman out there for the Human Rights Commission? ... There certainly is a lot of work that needs to be done,” he said.
Navajo Nation Leaders Have Opportunity to Save More Lives, Raise Additional Revenue By Choosing $1.50 Tax increase Over 60-Cent Proposal
Rapid City, South Dakota (July 21, 2010) –
Navajo Nation leaders have an important opportunity this week to significantly improve the physical and financial health of the Nation if they approve a $1.50 per pack cigarette tax increase over a competing 60-cent increase proposal. When compared to a 60-cent increase, a $1.50 tax increase would generate more than $500,000 in additional new revenue per year and prevent about 600 more youth from becoming smokers.
Health advocates are urging members of the Navajo Nation Council to support legislation #0361-10 with an amendment that would increase the current 40-cent per pack cigarette tax by $1.50 – bringing the new Navajo Nation cigarette tax rate to $1.90 per pack. “This legislation is more than about increasing revenues for our tribe” says Dr. Patricia Nez Henderson, a Navajo tribal member and Vice President of the Black Hills Center for American Indian Health. “It is about saving lives of our people, especially our Navajo youth.”
Increasing the cigarette tax is one of the most effective ways to reduce smoking, especially among kids. Studies show that every 10 percent increase in the price of cigarettes reduces youth smoking by about seven percent and overall cigarette consumption by about four percent.
According to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, the Navajo Nation can expect a $1.50 cigarette tax increase to:
· Generate $890,000 in new revenue to help fund tobacco prevention and other vital health programs.
· Prevent more than 1,000 Navajo Nation kids from becoming smokers.
· Produce more than $21.3 million in long-term health care savings.
· Save more than 400 Navajo people from premature, smoking-caused deaths.
· Spur more than 400 current adult smokers to quit for good.
“Increasing the cigarette tax by $1.50 is a win-win solution that will deliver significant health and revenue benefits for the Navajo Nation,” said Matthew L. Myers, President of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. “We urge the Navajo Nation’s leaders to support this worthwhile legislation, which will prevent kids from smoking, improve health, and reduce smoking-caused health care costs.”
While smoking rates have been declining within the U.S. general population, Navajos are experiencing increasing rates of smoking. Studies have shown that smoking prevalence among the Navajo tribe has risen dramatically over the past 20 years, with rates as high as 38 percent in some communities.
Patricia Nez Henderson, MD, MPH
Black Hills Center for American Indian Health
701 St. Joseph Street, Suite 204
Rapid City, SD 57701
(605) 348-6100 phone
(605) 348-6990 fax
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