Navajo Tribal Sovereignty, Amidst COVID-19


This event is the most saddest event to ever hit our collective communities.

Here on the Navajo Nation we are as big as 5 eastern states put together, in acreage: Massachusetts 6.7, Connecticut 3.5, Vermont 6.1, Rode Island I.8, Delaware .1.5, a Total: 18.6 Million acres. Our reservation is a little more than 18 million acres; this includes recent land purchases. We have about 180,000 plus individuals living on the Navajo Nation. The median age on the Navajo Nation is 24 years. Our young Navajos live in very depressed conditions. It’s hard to imagine that up to 5 generations live together in a house that is as small or smaller then 60 square feet. I know that in this brief moment in time that the younger generation is experiencing something that no other older generation has ever experienced.

Even the depression of the past is nothing compared to what is coming next. I do believe however if this event is properly prepared for and implemented then our people may rise above this current tragedy. I am a Navajo business consultant. I have been here on the Navajo Nation since this entire epidemic experience began. I have seen Navajo Nation Police pulling people over, I have family who have received $1000 dollar fines. I personally don’t believe financial penalties are effective on a reservation that has a 50 percent or more unemployment rate and 43% population that live below the poverty line. The current situation is only the beginning of much more financial difficulties. Because of this event many have predicted a global depression. Tribes across the nation have lost millions to billions in the gaming industry.

If a global depression is on the horizon then discussion of alternative revenue sources, is a necessary discussion to ensure the function of economic development and governmental revenue. I believe now is the time to make a prudent examination about this upcoming global economic crisis event. Here on the Navajo Nation, our three primary sources of income come from different industries, 51% from mining, 32% from Taxes, and 17% from Tourism annually. Over the past several years to today, we have seen the closure of the Navajo generating station which employed up to 300 plus workers, then after the Black Mesa Mines, 265 plus jobs also were lost, and the current periodical closure of businesses all over the Navajo Nation due to this event has made the tax revenue of the sale of goods and services come to complete halt, and because of restrictions and closures even our tourism and gaming revenue is at the current moment non-existent.

The Navajo nation gaming enterprise just recently laid off 900 of it’s 1200 employees, If Tribes do not prepare for this upcoming event many enterprises may be filing chapter 11, 13,or 7. This epidemic has left most of us in financial peril however I believe here on the Navajo Nation that the responsibility of Navajo nation‘s current situation can be call negligence and irresponsible. I believe this responsibility belongs to the Bureau of Indian Affairs, in the bureaucracy found in the Navajo Nation, the BIA creates conflict of development of any infrastructure.

Currently it takes an average of about 10 years of red tape to develop a structure or infrastructure on the Navajo Nation. Unfortunately as a sovereign nation we lease our own land from the US Government, our ancestral land is not even our land to call our own. It is managed by the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA). Since the executive order from Andrew Jackson in 1830, the Indian Removal Act removed without representation without provocation of native American interest responsibly represented and entrusted the negotiations of reservations and treaties to the Breau of Indian Affairs. By definition of war, and the act and practices of war, the Indian removal act was and is an act of war, not approved by congress. I say, “was and is” because of the alarming amount of Navajos who never will make it to 45 years of age.

The country’s current statical information says that a Navajo that lives off the reservation have a mortality probability of an additional 50 years of life. These statistics Match that of the number in any example in history called genocide. Although Auschwitz in Germany is closed, America is still open for business, and to add insult to injury, history records the BIA as the ever failing advocate for the race of the Native Americans that are currently only 1.60% of the world population, and who interestedly enough are the only race in American that have an assigned dictating governmental department who handles everything on our behalf. We as a race, respectfully have been placed under the department of interior along side her nine bureaus, along side the forest department and the fish and Wild life departments and not in the state department with other sovereign nations, we as Navajo have an established sovereign government with an embassy in Washington DC and a seat in the United Nations.

We still cannot get running water to our outhouses to properly wash our hands during this epidemic and no electricity for havc, to keep us warm and/ or cold. Our people resort to burning wood then the smoke from the fire places make our people among the most highest risk to this epidemic. With no everyday amenities in many of our Navajo’s homes it is hard to consider this is found in the most richest country in the world. In Germany and in Japan the US military rebuilt the cites of an occupying force. In my understanding according to Military code of Justice, has its rules to rebuild cities because the military have their own laws this would be an opportunity for the administration or congress to step up and help the Navajo people build infrastructure through the military. I believe the United States has 718 Billion dollars in the military from the 2020 discretionary budget. I believe by this humanitarian effort they could save the lives of thousands of our endangered race!

Sovereignty and water rights

If we focus on the emphasis of water rights and sovereignty. We need to make a few discoveries that history records very plainly. In my research I see that in the year of 1830 President Andrew Jackson ordered the Indian removal act, that removed all Native Americans west of the Mississippi river. Which Congress never voted on. History proves that The Indian removal act was an act of war against the Native Americans. Using brutal tactics and pushing Native Americans by force, the military and their cavalry remove them. This act was a illegal war carried out by the military, without congress’s approval. US law tells us that war can only be declared by Congress and approved by the Commander in chief, and president of United States. History also records, Then in 1868 Andrew Johnson president of United States signed the Navajo treaty. I believe we need to ask for the rights to our own land, because the BIA was simply an advocate for that time, when our Chiefs could only mark an X on the treaty of 1868. 

Today we have a fully functional government with a past history of passing laws, we have a three branch government I believe since 1989. We do have an embassy in Washington DC established by the current Navajo nation president Mr. Jonathan Nez. 

The treaty of 1868 States that if any bad man comes onto the reservation and causes a crime against the people of the Navajo nation, then that bad man would be arrested and taken to federal court.

I believe that the bad men that came onto the reservation and caused the atrocities and pillage and poverty of our Navajo people are the one and only office that has been in control of the Navajo nation since the treaty of 1868 and it is the bureau of Indian affairs. When our cattle were reduced by force and by arms and when our children were ripped from their families during the boarding school era and told they could not speak their language, and in that document stated that land belong to the Navajo, in the treaty, by saying, that if any bad man come onto this land, meaning the “Navajo nation”.  They would be taken to federal court and tried for their crimes, to add insult to injury, we The Navajo people were told that we had a land that didn’t even belong to us by any legal document.

In 1908 and reaffirmed in 1971 the Supreme Court ruling showed that the Navajo nation had sovereignty under Winters doctrine and it established the Navajo as a sovereign government, over its natural resources.

I argue this why is it that the natural resources that we have rights over exclude the land in which those natural resources reside. And why is the bad man who came and allow these atrocities against our people in possession legally over the Navajo peoples land?

-Rev. Neal Riggs

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