'Hooked at the hip'

Photo by Bob Hembree/Lake Powell Chronicle
Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez

Navajo Nation Council supports reopening tribal parks, but awaiting approval

 

 PAGE – Speaking of Page’s relationship with the Navajo Nation, City Manager Darren Coldwell said, “We are hooked at the hip.”

Page and neighboring communities on the Navajo Nation have shared the physical and economic health consequences that caught the world off guard.

While the pandemic appears on its way out and life is returning to normal, Navajo Nation Parks and Recreation remain closed to nonresident visitors. It also appears one man, President Jonathan Nez, has the power to determine the economic fate of workers and businesses on and off the Nation he leads.

The Council’s Naabik’íyáti Committee on Thursday passed the legislation, No. 0076-21, 22-0-1. The legislation is currently in the Navajo Nation Council. It is sponsored by 24th Navajo Nation Council Delegate Paul Begay, who represents the communities of Bodaway-Gap, Coppermine, Kaibeto, LeChee, and Tonalea-Red Lake.

As of this writing, Nez has not approved or vetoed the action.

Jared Touchin, the communication director for the president’s office, said the resolution has not shown up on Nez’s desk as of Monday afternoon (June 7). The Navajo Council grants the president 10 days to review a resolution once he receives it.

Local sources – who did not want to be named – expect a veto, citing Nez’s history of caution during the pandemic.

The Chronicle spoke with Begay Friday. The first-term council member knows the Page area well as he lives in town; he worked for the Salt River Project at Navajo Generating Station.

Begay expressed optimism that Nez would sign the legislation. He said, “Right now, considering that we’re on the verge of code green on the color code status, and also considering gaming casinos and the flea markets where a lot of people congregate are open already.”

Begay said, “Our tour business areas are just the opposite of that. They’re in the wide-open space. That’s what the president needs to consider. Hopefully, he does.”

Navajo Nation is currently in code yellow, which allows 50% occupancy for most businesses, but does not allow outside visitors in national parks, like the slot canyons. Code green, as it currently stands, allows 75% occupancy for all businesses. Begay’s legislation calls for 100% occupancy when code green is reached. He estimates this will happen within the next few weeks.

Begay’s original legislation in April called for a 50% occupancy for the parks (if a tour usually had 10, then five would be allowed). He updated it to 100%.

Begay said, “It didn’t make any sense for me to pass that legislation through, and we’re already there.”

“The status of reopening on the Navajo Nation had changed within the last week, so we had to update it, and at this time, I’m requesting that the legislation states to reopen the Navajo Parks and Recreation at 100%.

“That way, within the next few days or a couple of weeks or so when the Nation goes green, I won’t have to waste time redoing another legislation to raise the reopening percentage at 100%; you will already be there.”

The council-approved legislation calls for reopening Navajo parks to all. Begay said, “My legislation is to open to anybody—at 100%.”

Begay said, “The president has 10 days to consider the legislation on what he wants to do. My hope is that it does not take that long to consider it because we’re almost the halfway point to the tourist season. Right now, we don’t have time to wait because people are going to be losing their businesses.”

The closure of the slot canyons has led to economic hardships. Begay relayed testimonies from people saying, “I am experiencing all kinds of money problems. I’ve lost my vehicle. It got repossessed. I can’t afford it. I had to move out of the place I was living because I can’t afford the rent. I used to help my child who’s in college. I can’t do that anymore because I don’t have a job, and my job was working with these tour companies. Even the businesspeople themselves have testimonies like that.”

Begay said, “I say, and the businesspeople say, it’s time for our businesses to reopen. We’re going to have lost businesses. We’re going to be contradicting ourselves. When the president of the Navajo Nation says be self-sufficient. Be self-reliant. Start your own business. Learn to support yourself. We’re going to be contradicting ourselves by shutting them down.”

Begay said about 1,000 jobs are at stake, including college students who work summers for money to help them get through school when they return in the Fall.

If Nez doesn’t sign the resolution, Begay said, “If he doesn’t want to sign it, I will pick the legislation back up and do override legislation. If the council passes it, the president can’t touch it again.”

Begay said of Nez: “I know that he has the heart, and I hope that he relies on that heart to say, ‘Yes, I care for these people. I want to help.’”

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