Grassroots groups craft manifesto for government

By Marley Shebala
Navajo Times

WINDOW ROCK, January 3, 2013

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C ommunities, grassroots organizations and individuals are coming together for a "1,000 Family Hozho Walk/Prayer for Unity, Peace and Change" this spring to present the Navajo Nation Council with a "manifesto" on what they want from their government.

The walk will start on April 19 and culminate April 21 with the presentation of the manifesto and "Dinétah (Navajo homeland) principles of independence" to the Navajo Nation Council during their annual spring session, Norman P. Brown said on Dec. 18.

Brown, who is the founder of Diné Bidziil (The People's Strength), said the group has been meeting across the reservation on the development of the manifesto and principles, as well as the Hozho walk and prayer and 6th annual Dine Bidziil convention, which is scheduled to take place in Window Rock on Jan. 19.

He noted that the draft manifesto includes demands for action on domestic violence; more support and staffing for Navajo Nation Police; as well as positions on veterans, the Confluence, water rights, corporate attempts to bypass the Navajo uranium ban, family control of chapter governments, and the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act. Other issues would probably be added as discussions progress, he said.

Brown emphasized that he and other grassroots organization leaders and community advisors have been spending a great deal of time working with local community members opposing the development of the Grand Canyon Escalade project at the Grand Canyon east rim of the confluence of the Colorado River and Little Colorado River.

The local community members and supporters organized themselves into "Save The Confluence" and sent a letter to Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly asking him to conduct additional research into the project site because it contains sacred sites and burial grounds.

Brown explained that the main purpose of the walk and day of prayer is to tell the Navajo government that their way of governing is not working, which is evident from the spiraling rates of poverty, domestic violence, health problems, child abuse, homelessness, suicide and other social ills.

"If our elected Navajo leaders won't promote healing and reconciliation then we as Diné families and individuals will begin this healing process ourselves through our different faiths together," he noted.

He said that Diné Bidziil has reached out to the Diné Medicine Men's Association, Native American Church of Navajoland, Azee'Bee Nahagha of Diné Nation, Sun Dancers, powwow people, and Christian denominations on the reservation.

"At some point, we have to bring our nation together," Brown said.

He added that the people have been watching and listening to their individual tribal elected leaders and political appointees as they've attempted to reform the government by telling the people to come to each of them with their list of problems, which they would prioritize.

"No, we are not going to tell you what we want because a government cannot reform itself by politically appointed representatives," he said. "For this reason, we are going out to the Diné and involving them in the framing of their ideas and values for what they desire in a government that truly represents us."

Brown acknowledged that a majority of the tribal elected leadership are good leaders but said that their attempts to work for the best interest of their people and their homeland - which includes the air, water, land, plants, livestock, birds and wildlife - is strangled by the current government system that embraces outside corporations and is based on Western political values.

Navajo educator, artist and activist Larry Emerson, who is serving as an advisor for the convention and surrounding events, said, "Diné Bidziil means to value, respect, protect and practice our socialization processes, which are rooted in hózhónázdlíí and k'enahazadlii' ways of knowing that acknowledges the impact of naayééí jí thinking."

Emerson explained that hózhónázdlíí is the "restoration of harmony, beauty, balance, happiness, peace."

K'énáházdlíí is "the restoration of kinship/clan and community," he added. "Naayééí' jí is a way of knowing to meaningfully engage in adversity, chaos and negativity."

He noted that Diné bidziil is, "To be conscious: how we think about ourselves, our inner being, our spiritual lives, our interactions with one another, to tell our own stories, to testify, connect and relate to one another to safeguard our land, language, way of life;

"To reframe histories, cultural knowledge, identities, decision making;

"To democratize our lives - everyday democracy;

"To indigenize: to center cultural and political action from an indigenous way of knowing and being;

"To be political: how we humans govern the behavior of others for the good of all;

"To be economic: how we maintain our physical existence to obtain our physical needs;

"To heal, transform, decolonize, mobilize and practice our right to self-determination and sovereignty."

Brown noted that the group understands the reality of their work.

"We realize this will be a lifetime of work," he said. "It's a long-term nation-building process and many of us have committed ourselves."

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