Rethink the junk food tax

WINDOW ROCK, March 27, 2014

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I wanted to make a comment concerning the proposed junk food tax. First, I understand the health concerns surrounding this issue. The consumption of junk food is one of the contributing factors to obesity.

And taxation is a vehicle that can be used to change consumption. In fact, the Navajo Tobacco Tax is an example of this process. This embedded tax adds a burden to the consumer in hopes of swaying his/her intention to purchase tobacco, with a side benefit of raising revenue from the transaction.

However, in this case, using a tax code to adjust the eating habits of consumers will probably not reach the drafters' goals. First, will adding a $.02 cent tax to candy and pop address the issue of obesity? No. It will not. Because in the context of this bill "junk" food is only defined as candy and pop. It does not address all the other saturated foods consumed at fast food restaurants. Plus, as it is most consumers already pay a premium price when we go to a vending machine or a convenience store.

Drafters of the bill should think more outside the box. Legislators should look at ways to encourage Navajo government staff to live a more healthy life. So why not take the lead and develop a wellness program for government employees with incentives to encourage employees to participate? Employees could be encouraged to exercise during their lunch hour with the incentives like time off.

The Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community government has a wellness program for its employees. Staff are provided time off for getting annual health checks and can receive additional time off when they engage in other healthy activities like walking.

Sure there is an embedded cost of leave hours but wouldn't that be offset against having healthier, happier employees? Also, legislators could look at physical education in the schools. Encouraging students to exercise more is just as important as watching what they eat.

Next, just how much revenue would a $.02 per $1 tax really generate on Navajo? At most, this tax will probably generate about $275,000 per year. The Navajo Retail Sales Tax generated $8 million in fiscal year 2013, which includes all retail sales at grocery stores, convenience stores, general stores, hotel stays, and leasing of real property.

I state this estimate because this proposed bill would earmark funds for fitness projects across the nation. With 110 chapters on the Navajo Nation, the $275,000 (less mandatory Navajo set asides) will probably only buy two cases of water per chapter per year. Is that going to fight obesity on Navajo? Probably not.

Lastly, has anyone asked reservation retailers what the financial impact would be to them? Just to reprogram cash registers is a major cost to incur. There is also the time needed to report the additional category of activity to the tax commission.

Lastly, there is the lost revenue from this venture. For convenience stores, gasoline sold is not a major profit center but rather revenue is generated more from the transactions occurring within the store. Thus, an added tax on those convenience items would reduce sales and economically hurt those few stores still operating around Navajo. Is that something that Navajo really wants to do?

Thus, we should be thinking more outside the box. We should provide ways to encourage employees and students to exercise rather than trying to add another burden that takes away from the consumers' pocket book.

Having said all this, I'm sure the next thing that I will be reading about is the Navajo Nation Council calling a special session to overturn the president's veto. As such, more funds out the door just to overturn the president's veto on a bill that will not fully meet the intentions of drafters.

Mark C. Graham
Gilbert, Ariz.

Council should enact Grazing Act into law

For the record, Ts'ah Bii Kin Chapter officially rescinded the approving resolution for the Healthy Diné Nation Act after listening to its constituents.

People make the choice on their own of what to purchase and what to eat. Just like those who choose to speed on our highways or smoke cigarettes or marijuana, or buy alcohol or chew tobacco. It may not be a good choice but nevertheless in the end it is a choice one makes.

If the Navajo Nation Council is to override President Ben Shelly's veto, then the Navajo Nation Council should enact the Grazing Act into Navajo Nation law too.

One out of every 10,000 Navajo people have grazing permits. These people are blocking their local chapters from building infrastructure and integrating community development.

The grazing permittee has more power than the chapter officials in their communities. Yet these are the first to "demand" from the chapter, during weather-related emergencies, hay, grain, and water for their livestock, when they should be paying monthly even daily grazing fees for each animal they own.

Most grazing permit holders demand free vaccinations and free labor for their branding of livestock. Many do not even report the full count of the livestock to the grazing official representative.

The Grazing Act would limit the overgrazing and finally make the permit holders to be held accountable for their livestock, which are roaming all over the reservation. Grazing fields should be set aside and fenced in. A 4- or 5-year rotation schedule of these grazing fields is needed so our land is not overgrazed.

People should not be popping up homes wherever they want. Roads built by these people are causing erosion. Much of the funds for infrastructure, such as electrification and water lines, are used up by the few people who live miles from others. The Navajo Nation does not even have camping sites or places to hike, fish, or any recreational sites like the White Mountain Apache Tribe. It is embarrassing! If the Navajo Nation Council is focused on "improving" the lifestyle of the Navajo people, I ask that they address the wild animals such as feral horses, cows and misuse of the grazing permits first.

How many chapters supported the Healthy Diné Nation Act of 2013? Add up the numbers of resolutions passed and the number of people who voted in favor of these resolutions. Most likely the total count is less than 1,000 people who voted in favor.

Martha Tate
Inscription House, Ariz.

There is no LCR settlement to read

It's funny how Hopi activist Vernon Masayesva can say the Little Colorado River settlement is alive and kicking. Someone should tell the Hopi and Navajo governments that there's a live settlement.

Right now Arizona refuses to even speak with either tribe to talk settlement right now. Masayesva is just trying to stir up trouble again.

The Navajo Nation does not have any resolution on the board to begin talks with Arizona about a settlement. The settlement wasn't even tied to the Navajo Generation Station. It was just an option. Anyone who actually read the settlement would know that.

Instead all the grassroots were reading the Senate Bill 2109. This wasn't even the settlement. No one read the settlement. Now there isn't a settlement to read.

If grassroots don't want coal mines, they should protest the coal mines. Instead they protest a water settlement that could have brought $360 million in water projects to the Navajo Nation. The Navajo Nation doesn't have that much money to build these projects.

Now we have Navajo in Blanding, Utah, saying they need to develop ground water projects. That's what the LCR settlement would have done. We have Navajo in Dilkon saying they need water for their new hospital facility. The LCR settlement would have brought water for that. Grassroots like to complain and point out problems, but grassroots never offer a solution.

There are Navajo communities that will not survive without the coal industry. Over 600 high-paying Navajo jobs are tied to the coal industry. These jobs take care of immediate and extended family. They put that money back into the local community. How are grassroots going to make up for 600 high-paying jobs?

Navajo can only claim water it uses. Coal mines are the highest water users on Navajo. If grassroots close the coal mines, Navajo cannot claim that water.

How can Navajo go to court and claim all this water, when it's not using it? They can't. A court can only determine your water right. The courts cannot provide money for projects, or come up with ways to share water in times of drought.

Masayesva, Ed Becenti, Jack Utter, and the rest of the grassroots like to complain and point out the problems, but they never offer any viable solutions. It's like they see the tribes are drowning, but they don't help. All they do is talk about the temperature of the water. Instead of describing the water, grassroots, put your hand out and offer a solution to save your tribe.

Jack Riley
Gallup, N.M.

Beware of those who practice 'astroturfing'

The community members of Cameron, Ariz., are facing many challenges due to uranium contamination in our backyard. In an attempt to raise awareness and possibly present some recommendations from a community level to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Navajo Nation Environmental Protection Agency pertaining to the uranium contamination cleanup, Lorenzo Robbins and I, as community members, decided that our people first need more information and education before doing so.

After meeting with the Diné organizer behind the "High Power" tour of a former nuclear engineer from India turned anti-nuke activist premiering his film "High Power" and after several communications with the coordinator, it was decided we would host the tour in Cameron.

Days before the Cameron presentation, it was brought to our attention we might be dealing with an opportunist capitalizing off our inhumane living conditions. After further inquiry, it was decided to cancel the event.

As invited guests, rather than respect our decision, the coordinator and presenters pushed back. Subsequently, the Cameron community service coordinator decided to override our decision to cancel, saying this event was planned months ago (which was a lie), and that I had no authority to cancel.

So, furious with the turn of events, I searched the Internet to try and find the words to express my feelings when I found this: "Astroturfing:" the "faking" of a grassroots movement. Astroturfing is pretending to be a grassroots movement controlled by a hidden, non-grassroots organization. In this manner, a faux show is presented consisting of robotic individuals pretending to be something they're not, to support a hidden agenda.

Astroturfing masks the sponsors of a message to make it appear as though it originates from grassroots participants, and supported by impacted people.

By coming onto the rez, and by their presence in Cameron by design, is intended to give the perception to outsiders and supporters of credibility. In this case, the coordinator purposely withheld affiliations, financial sources and hidden agenda(s), and acted and participated in perpetuating the further exploitation of our community.

Websites are created and media is used to mask the identity of astroturfing and makes it appear they have the favor of the impacted community to change perception in favor of outside business and individual interests.

The journal of business ethics states that astroturfing threatens the legitimacy of genuine grassroots movements. Astroturfing is "purposefully designed to fulfill corporate agendas, and manipulate public opinion."

The exploitation by Native and non-Native predators has to stop. There are vital lessons to be learned and I feel it's my duty, after our recent experience in Cameron, to raise the red flag for other Navajo communities and indigenous peoples who are being infiltrated. In truth the people directly impacted and mostly affected never see positive change.

The central government of the Navajo Nation has been made aware of the predators through numerous chapter resolutions requesting the exclusion of non-Native persons. I encourage others to also stand against the predators in your community.

Evangeline Yazzie and Lorenzo Robbins
Cameron, Ariz.

Thank you to a Navajo language teacher

Teachers. They come in all forms but most go unappreciated. My mom Sadie has been a schoolteacher for nearly 40 years with the Window Rock Unified School District. Her passion for teaching and assisting other teachers is what makes her and her colleagues remarkable. It is a tough thought to swallow when one of those remarkable colleagues makes the journey to the "other side."

Marilyn Dempsey was my sixth grade Navajo language teacher. At the time we attended class in the hogan outside the gymnasium at Tse Ho Tso Middle School. The boys sat on the north side of the hogan while the girls on the south.

My husband, though at the time he was just another boy, sat across from me. Ms. Dempsey made sure we walked directional through the hogan, addressed each other with courtesy and only spoke Navajo while in class or we didn't speak at all. She taught us about kinship, harvest, colors, dates, history and even the simplicity of teaching my husband to say "Dzilgahah" as his maternal clans.

One day while working at the Education Center in Window Rock, I ran into Ms. Dempsey. I told her how I appreciated the Navajo language lessons she wrote for the Navajo Times. My husband and I would sit there and read to each other in Navajo and sound out words.

She stated, "I always wondered if anyone ever read those. I will continue writing them if they are helping you learn." She was a selfless woman who inspired you to do more and learn more.

Teachers sacrifice family time so their students can improve their reading. They give up their weekends to grade papers, spend evenings at their second home -- their classrooms -- to decorate for the next month, prepare lesson plans and during the summers take classes and professional development to enrich their own knowledge.

The small chapter house in Oak Springs was the host location to share food and share memories of Ms. Dempsey. Within a few tables, I witnessed over 20 Navajo language teachers with more than 200 years worth of knowledge shared in laughter and tears. These individuals have put much of the Navajo language into written form, into verbal thought and have worked on many projects. Not to mention the daily work of teaching students.

It was stated that day, "It takes a village to raise a child" and that is how many teachers, many of my mom's colleagues and friends, raised me.

Thank you to the teachers across the Navajo Nation for impacting the future and the teachers at Window Rock Unified School District for your continued drive to help students learn. Through teacher affirmation even discipline, correction and homework, we learn of the balance we are to have in life. And to Ms. Dempsey, Ahe'hee.

Emerald and Shiloh
Vincent Craig
Albuquerque, N.M.
(Hometown: Window Rock and Whiteriver, Ariz.)

Lets start running, get in shape

Ya'at'eeh, Diné runners, spring is here again. Let's lace them up and start training for the summer racing series.

I run and train in the high country here in Flagstaff, and started running competitively five years ago. I have run with the best and met all kinds of runners along the way. They come in all shapes and sizes, young and old, female and male, all good runners.

Whether you run the big stages like Sedona Marathon, Shiprock Marathon, Narbona Pass, Navajo Nation Half Marathon, or other local races, as a runner you train year round.

Runners have their own training regimen. It can be flat running, hilly, rocky terrain, pavement, snow, rain, or wind. We face all of these challenges to become a better runner.

Ironically, as I see it, running is not easy, you train hard, you are aching, and you are pushing the limits of your mind and body. With that said, anyone who sets his or her mind to it can be a phenomenal runner.

So to all you harriers out there, we shall see you again on the running circuit. Get out on your favorite trails and get in shape again. Let's set some PR (personal record) times again, my friends. It's all a matter of a healthy lifestyle.

Larry Lee
Flagstaff, Ariz.
(Hometown: Salina Springs, Ariz.)

Opinions against 'Redskins' are inconsiderate

For those of you that think you have to continually voice your opinions publically regarding the football team mascot name, the "Redskins," consider this: Yes, you are practicing the good ol' American tradition, i.e., freedom of speech. But, other people have their own opinions yet you are trying to infringe on their rights.

You do not have the right to force your opinions on others and to continue to do so becomes harassment. As a matter of fact it is inconsiderate and insensitive. Lastly, negativity does not work. However, if your opinion is based on fact, make your statement and move on, otherwise it becomes whining.

In the words of our mother, Annie Wauneka, "Anyone can complain, but intelligent people will recommend solutions."

Bottom line: the Redskins name is intended to honor the bravery and dignity of American Indians. Any or all of us should be honored to have a great institution named after us. Peace for the good of all. Wanda MacDonald Tuba City, Ariz. Motorcyclist sends thanks for help On Feb. 8, I became quite ill while riding my motorcycle north on Highway 89 between the turnoffs for Tuba City and Highway 89A. I parked my motorcycle next to a driveway and lay on the ground shaking uncontrollably.

A man and woman stopped to help me and they gave me some newspapers to lie on to keep my clothes clean and an article of clothing to rest my head on.

After a couple of hours I felt well enough to continue on my trip. I would like to thank them and the young man from the house that the driveway led to for helping me and checking on my welfare. I also would like to return the article of clothing. If the couple would contact me at 505-792-8471 or I will return the clothing to them. I am sorry to be so late in posting this. Jack Dannenberg Albuquerque, N.M.

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