Walk in beauty, graduates!

Leandra Thomas
Miss Navajo Nation 2012-13

June 6, 2013

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N avajo Nation was at one time a very healthy nation. We ate the right foods and performed daily healthy physical activities like herding sheep, cutting wood, building hogans, hauling water, grinding corn, weaving and walking or running. We burned calories and the majority of our people were slim and trim; mentally and physically well.

Today, the majority of us are obese and unhealthy and most of us are in denial. The hospitals and clinics on the reservation are insufficient to treat the ailments we suffer as a diabetic nation. The nation's medical centers have to send us to facilities located in places like Phoenix, Tucson, Albuquerque, Salt Lake City, Denver, etc. for proper treatment.

Millions of dollars are being spent to treat ailments resulting from obesity and unhealthy choices. An ill person may even develop depression and perhaps self-destruction. Is this the kind of future we, as parents and leaders, want to hand to our younger generation — a sick society? We are not doing nearly enough to address this very deadly problem.

Every so often, I see signs around chapter communities asking people to join a Walkfest and advertising marathons and runs. Still, obesity rates are increasing - more than 50 percent of Tuba City elementary-school-age kids were diagnosed with diabetes. The government employs several measures to fight obesity and diabetes, including educating people nutrition and which foods to eat or avoid. The rates are still increasing, not just in Tuba City, but across the Navajo Nation. l applaud all those trying to stabilize the epidemic rates of diabetes, especially the government programs.

I suggest that we enlist private-sector help, just as there are so many private organizations throughout the United States serving the public by helping eradicate various illnesses. We need to involve them. Private-sector organizations are less burdened with red-tape bureaucracies and can provide services without political strings attached. We must also insist on the help of industries that sell to our people items that, if consumed in large quantities, result in diabetes and obesity, instead of banning or taxing them out of business.

Private industry can donate to private non-profit organizations that want and are willing to work with us and educate us. Such a program should be reservation-wide and target all ages. It should reach every home and restore the habits of physical fitness we, Navajo, once embraced. There is a movement to tax diabetes- or obesity-causing food items like soft drinks and junk foods known to contribute to poor health. But will this solve our diabetes issue?

It could help, but our people will buy the stuff anyway at off-reservation markets—just as they do with liquor. It's certainly not going to stop the production of junk foods. So, do we just continue to let the onslaught happen? Or, should we reach back to our past and see what really made us nearly perfect physical specimens?

The difference is not just what we avoid, but the activities we did as families, communities and a nation. We need to teach and encourage our people to make healthy food choices and increase physical activity to lose weight and improve their health. It takes more than just hiding junk foods or outlawing them.

Such a program must start with individual homes, families and communities by exchanging their lifestyles with new routines that will burn calories. Not everyone can run in a marathon, play basketball, baseball, golf, touch football or dance. We need to start a new physical fitness culture that targets and is based on the individual capacities and abilities of each member of the Navajo Nation.

With concerted efforts over the next decade, or two, we can develop a new culture of health and drastically improve the health of all, despite the availability of the deadly food products. It will cost money and lots of time and commitment and require everyone's involvement, every organization, each company that operates in and does business with the Navajo Nation, particularly those whose products are killing us now. The price of doing business on Navajo land should be to help make the Navajo Nation healthy. It's a win-win answer to one of the most troubling health problem we've faced in recent years.

Peter MacDonald, Sr.
Former Navajo Nation Chairman
Tuba City, Ariz.

A lack of customer service on the Navajo Nation

In last week's edition, Mr. Raymond Nopah, Chief Financial Officer of Division of Economic Development, informs us of the "exodus of [our] hard earned Navajo dollars to the border towns".

He mentions a research done by his division with well-documented numbers to back up his assertions. It is all information of note that we as Diné should be acutely cognizant of. Being not a critic nor a naysayer but a customer of businesses on the Navajo Nations I do believe that aside from devising policy and sales tax increases for more revenue, there is a much–needed area of improvement, a start if you will, to keep our dollars here. It is that of customer service.

To be more specific, at some retail establishments on our nation I see lack of proper and accepted customer service. Oftentimes when we visit border town merchants, however superficial one or two might be, we are greeted with smiles and some welcoming words. When we depart, again we are emboldened to return soon. Whereas when we patronize some retail establishments back home we find that element missing. Perhaps some personal examples I have encountered are warranted here.

I have been in places where I would stand at the counter while two employees stood and talked before one approaches me to ask if she would help me, displaying a demeanor, which seems to indicate I had disturbed a solemn ceremony. At one place I took what I wanted to the counter only to wait while the cashier finished texting before ringing up my purchase and then asking for the amount not even looking up once. More than once I blurted out the parting words of a "thank you" only to be totally ignored.

I am not talking about all establishments of course but one yearns for a greeting and words that indicate appreciation for shopping, a reason to return and shop again. In my community, I wait for these two young gentlemen to be on duty before I go shopping at the local store. They never fail to be polite and appreciative.

The point here is that the proprietors of our Navajo Nation business establishments need to take the lead and initiate professional development to their staff on the proper procedures of customer service. In Tséhootsooi Medical Center's periodical Healthy Winds, June issue, CEO Dr. Leland Leonard reminds us that leadership is the art of motivating a group of people to act towards a common goal." Leaders of Navajo businesses must do their part to assist Mr. Nopah in meeting the goals of the Division of Economic Development.

Herman Cody
Grand Falls, Ariz.

The closing of NCI

It is disheartening to read in none other than the Gallup Independent about our well-educated Navajo Nation Council's Naa'bik'iyati Committee's decision to withhold funding from NCI until investigations of "alleged abuses and mistreatments" have been conducted.

Having worked in substance abuse rehabilitation, I have referred clients to NCI on a number of occasions and even had an opportunity to take a tour of the facility. The counselors and staff are very dedicated and committed to doing this type of extremely difficult work. The outcome of these clients was positive, even though it is usually only a 30-day treatment. Yes, NCI has a "drunk tank" like all jails and where "all is not rosy."

First of all, we aren't talking about a Bed & Breakfast place. Interestingly, I know of no other ethnic group that becomes extremely belligerent as us native drunks. Ask any hospital emergency room staff or even an ambulance crew like an EMT (and for that matter the staff that work in a "detox" center). You's get the ugly picture I'm referring to. And what do you think happens in a jail when an inmate becomes violent? Undoubtedly, they would get to experience a taser gun if NCI should close its doors.

My recommendation that in lieu of paying to have an investigation, our Naa'bik'iyati Committee would do us a favor to help defray the cost by doing their own investigation in collaboration (and innovativeness) with other agencies. According to Mr. Azua, the Navajo Human Rights Commission, Navajo Department of Behavioral Health, New Mexico Department of Health have overseen and inspected on a regular basis. From reading about the allegations, NCI could institute intense training for their staff including time off to avoid burns-outs.

Personally, I dread the day NCI should be forced to close its doors, when our Navajo Nation leaders can open up a "detox center." The other option is to have NCI invoice the chapters where clients come from especially when a household name, "local governance" comes up often at campaign speeches.

I'm thankful that had I not been affected by this dreadful illness myself, I'd be extremely judgmental and condescending to no end. Unfortunately, alcoholism is so prevalent among our native population and even if you didn't personally become addicted, a loved one has died as a result.

Kenneth Chester
Montezuma Creek, Utah

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