In his opening statement during a meeting with Department of Interior Secretary Ken Salazar on September 28, Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly said he wants the staff building the Navajo Gallup Water Supply to consist of 98 percent Navajo employees.
The meeting, which Salazar said was for him to listen to Navajo leaders and their issues, took place at the Navajo Division of Transportation Complex in Window Rock, Arizona, and was attended by more than 80 people.
“I want to see 98 percent of the workers be Navajo,” Shelly said.
The project, once realized, is expected to deliver a long-term, sustainable water supply to meet the critical needs of more than 43 Navajo chapters; the city of Gallup, New Mexico; and the Teepee Junction area of the Jicarilla Apache Nation. Currently, these areas depend on a rapidly depleting supply of poor quality groundwater that cannot meet current and future demands. The first water delivery to Navajo communities could occur in two to three years.
The Interior recently announced that $43 million would be allocated to help build the Navajo Gallup Water Supply Project. The entire project is expected to cost upwards of $900 million and create more than 600 jobs during construction.
At the meeting, Shelly told Salazar the Interior needs to work the Navajo Nation for natural resource management and development, better utilize trust and assets to grow Navajo wealth, and better communication within federal agencies to tribes.
Shelly added, while issues about the Navajo-Hopi land dispute are mostly resolved, they need attention to ensure that issues are addressed to completion.
In a written statement to Salazar, Shelly outlined the need for more funding for the Office of Navajo and Hopi Indian Relocation (ONHIR) and more help for Navajos living in the former Bennett Freeze area—an area larger than the state of Delaware that had no significant development for four decades. The Freeze was implemented in 1966 following a lawsuit by the Hopi Tribe to claim the area, resulting in the properties and homes becoming dilapidated to an extent they are not safe to live in.
“At the current rate of funding, we anticipate that it may be another 20 years for ONHIR completes its work. That means a family which relocated 10 years ago, it will have waited 30 years to receive promised benefits,” Shelly wrote.
Navajo Nation Council Speaker Johnny Naize reiterated the need for help for the ONHIR and for people living in the former Bennett Freeze area.
“Our people in the affected area have had to work twice, or even four times, as hard to travel on unmaintained roads to haul water for basic consumption,” Naize said.
Navajo Supreme Court Justice Eleanor Shirley represented the third branch of the Navajo government and asked Salazar for funding support for a new Supreme Court Judicial Complex.
Attending Council Delegates, about a dozen, also expressed the need for help for Navajo people affected by the Navajo Hopi Land dispute.
“There is hope that we can do some great things on the issues which you have raised today,” Sec. Salazar said after listening to the Navajo leaders.
“You have our commitment and you have seen us walk the talk over the last several years,” Salazar added.