Candidate forum focuses on youth issues

(Times - Leigh T. Jimmie)

Elders and youth listen to introductions and responses at the presidential candidates forum at the Winslow Residence Hall on Tuesday in Winslow, Ariz.

By Bill Donovan
Special to the Times

WINSLOW, Ariz., July 29, 2010

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(Times - Leigh T. Jimmie)

Peter Nez Sr., center, applauds presidential candidates at a forum at the Winslow Residence Hall on Tuesday in Winslow, Ariz.

Nine of the 12 candidates running for Navajo Nation president gathered here Tuesday night to give their views on youth issues.

Questioned by local students, candidates talked not about government reform, Desert Rock or unemployment, but instead addressed the reservation's high dropout rates, controlling the sale of tobacco to young people, and what to do about public drunkenness in Winslow.

In every response, more and different parental involvement was cited as a big part of the solution.

Not able to make the forum because of previous commitments were Lynda Lovejoy, Donald Benally and George Herrera. More than 200 people showed up for the forum, which was also carried live on KTNN.

One of the first questions went to D. Harrison Tsosie and concerned domestic violence, with the questioner stating that two out of every five children on the reservation have experienced domestic violence in their homes.

Pointing out that current Navajo laws aren't a big enough deterrent, Tsosie said part of the problem is with many parents on the reservation.

"We aren't teaching our children that this is not acceptable behavior," he said.

He said states like Utah have tough laws that allow prosecutors to file domestic violence cases even if the victim wants to drop it.

"The Navajo Nation needs to make this a priority," Tsosie said, adding that if families did the same, the problem would be greatly alleviated.

"In my family, members are taught that every person has a duty not to harm another person," he said. "They are also taught that if they do, there will be consequences."

A questioner stated that the number of Navajo youth who have tried smokeless tobacco decreased from 77 percent in 2005 to 70 percent in 2008, and asked Sharon Clahchischilliage what she would to reduce this number even more.

She said she views it as an addiction problem and that more needs to be done by schools and parents to educate Navajo youth about dangers associated with smokeless tobacco.

"This means we have to look at what is going on in our family that triggers this kind of action," she said, adding that parents also need to spend more time learning what their children are doing when they are with their fiends and take action if their child shows signs of taking up unhealthy habits.

"We also need to look at programs that deal with addictions," she said. "We are weak in that area."

Rex Lee Jim was asked how he would have Navajo youth capitalize on both "bilagáana and Navajo knowledge" without compromising either.

"You cannot sacrifice one for the other," Jim said, pointing out that European schoolchildren routinely learn several languages.

He said that when he attended Princeton University, he was able to stand out because he possessed knowledge from his Navajo culture that none of the other students had.

"I was very proud of this," he said.

Jim said teachers on the Navajo Reservation have to be more creative in the use of Navajo culture, and he pointed out that there are people in Navajo history "who were just as great as Shakespeare."

On the question of alcoholism on the streets of Winslow, he said part of the problem is that "for a long time, people have thought that government has all of the answers."

When it comes to alcoholism, Jim said he would like to get churches in Winslow involved and work with the nearby Navajo community to come up with programs that would replace negative behavior with more positive behavior on the part of the alcoholic.

Teen suicide came up as well with the questioner stating that suicide has become the second leading cause of death - behind accidents and unintentional injury - for Native Americans and Alaskan Natives aged 10 to 34.

Thoreau Chapter, for instance, has lost several teens to suicide in recent months and last weekend, a 14-year-old girl in Dilkon, Ariz., killed herself.

Dale Tsosie said parents have to be on the forefront in this issue and should monitor what their teenaged children read and watch on TV,
"Many of our children's hearts are empty," he said. "We need to fill them with our faith."

Arbin Mitchell, when asked about government accountability, talked about the need for the government to be open with the Navajo people.

As director of the tribe's Division of Community Development, he said his budget is available online "so people can see how much money I make."

Mitchell said he would also like to see chapters put their budgets online so people could see how their chapter funds are being spent.

On the question of encouraging Navajo youth to learn their language, Vice President Ben Shelly said the Navajo Nation needs to make a greater effort to encourage youth and adults alike to learn Navajo.

He said he would like to see the tribal government encourage employees who can't speak the language to take courses. He would also like to see new approaches to teaching Navajo youth their language.

"Young people like technology - iPods, cell phones," he said. "I would like it if everything they see in technology be in Navajo."

In a health-related question, students said that for the past several years, an executive order promoting the wellness of Navajo Nation employees has been on Shirley's desk.

Daniel Peaches said, if elected, he would promote wellness among the Navajo people as well as tribal employees.

More however, needs to be done to educate parents so they pass on healthful practices.

Jerry Todacheene, in his closing remarks, said that one of his priorities is to make sure the voice of the Navajo people is heard, and promised, "I will bring honor back to our great nation."

The forum was sponsored by a number of organizations in the Winslow area, including the Little Singer School, Star School in Leupp, Ariz., and the Southwest Navajo Tobacco Education Prevention Project.

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