Arizona budget includes 'historic' funding for tribal communities, but without 'sovereignty'
The record $18 billion budget that state legislators passed last month included a historic $55 million investment in projects on tribal lands. But For Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez, the funding is a “drop in the bucket.”
And while it might be a good start, Nez said it comes with strings attached that ultimately leave the Navajo — and other tribal leaders — without much say in how it’s spent. Rather than give the money to tribal nations, lawmakers earmarked it for specific construction projects, which will be managed by state agencies.
“The state of Arizona is still involved. So, is that true sovereignty? That’s a question that we have always been asked,” Nez told the Arizona Mirror in an interview Wednesday. “It should just be given to the nation and put into these projects, but that’s sometimes not the case…
“We’re gonna have to deal with the bureaucracy between the two.”
The vast majority of that $55 million will go to infrastructure projects on the Navajo Nation. The state budget includes funding for a variety of projects and resources that directly benefit tribal communities across the state.
And while Nez wishes it was structured differently, the three Navajo Democratic lawmakers touted the spending as nothing short of groundbreaking.
“This historic funding for (Legislative District 7) and Arizona tribes includes funding for children, veterans, roads, public safety, housing, education, and construction of facilities,” Sen. Theresa Hatahlie, Rep. Myron Tsosie, and Rep. Jasmine Blackwater-Nygren said in a joint statement.
“The Arizona State Legislature has historically overlooked tribal communities, seen our priorities pushed aside and overlooked, and were repeatedly told this was not the state’s jurisdiction,” they said in a joint statement. “Now, we are writing a different history.”
The largest portion of the money — $22 million — is going to the Arizona Department of Transportation for tribal highway construction and improvements. Four projects will be funded:
“We prioritized infrastructure, shovel-ready projects, and programs that help those most in need,” the three Navajo state legislators said in their joint statement. “Some of the projects have been years in the making and benefitted from the work of previous state representatives and senators.”
Another $15.5 million was given to the Arizona Department of Administration for projects that directly benefit the Navajo Nation. Six projects are being funded:
Other areas receiving funding for tribal projects include the Arizona Department of Housing, which will distribute $4 million in funding to the Navajo and Hopi Nations; the Arizona Department of Veteran Services received $3.2 million in funding, of which $2.2 million is for Veteran Service officers for rural tribal communities and $1 million is for tribal nations to conduct tribal ceremonies for members discharged from the military; the Arizona Department of Education was given $5.1 million for the Office of Indian Education and childhood trauma awareness and prevention grants.
“The budget was possible because we worked together with open communication. We stuck together, collaborated, and made tough decisions to prioritize and select great projects,” they said in a joint statement. “We were not in it for ourselves, we stayed on this path for our district, for the Navajo Nation, and for Tribal communities.”
This report was first published by the Arizona Mirror.