President Begaye, Congressman Curtis discuss issues facing Navajo

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Photo: President Russell Begaye and Congressman John Curtis helping award the competition winners at the youth rodeo.

WINDOW ROCK—President Russell Begaye welcomed Rep. John Curtis (R-Utah) for a visiting tour of the Navajo Nation on July 27. Together they discussed the Utah Water Rights Settlement, uranium contamination and Navajo relocation.

“I appreciate Congressman Curtis for coming to visit the great Navajo Nation,” President Begaye said. “To see firsthand what life is like in the local communities, to be educated on the issues facing the Navajo people, and to experience the culture are steps in the right direction.

The tour began in Crownpoint, New Mexico at a youth rodeo organized by the Indian Junior Rodeo Association at the 2018 Diné Bi Eastern Fair. Both the president and the congressman helped award the competition winners that participated as a part of Youth Focus Day. 

“It was a pleasure to spend the day with President Begaye at the Navajo Nation,” Rep. Curtis said. “This has been my third trip this year, and each time I have been humbled by their hospitality. Having the opportunity to see, listen, and learn about the issues that are most important to the community is an invaluable experience. I look forward to my next visit and continued dialogue on important issues.”

Over lunch, President Begaye sought the congressman's support for amendments to the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act (RECA) that would benefit many Navajo Nation uranium workers and "downwinders." 

RECA applies to uranium workers who developed cancer and disease because of their exposure to radiation. However, while it applies to uranium miners with lung cancer, it does not apply to those with kidney cancer or kidney disease. It also excludes uranium workers who began work after 1971. The Navajo Nation supports amendments to expand the act to include these workers before it expires in 2022.

Following lunch, Rep. Curtis was accompanied by Navajo EPA, USEPA Region 9 Tribal Lands Cleanup Section, and Navajo AML/UMTRA to the Church Rock United Nuclear Corporation Mine Site where a tailings dam was breached and released 94 million gallons of radioactive waste into the Puerco River in 1979. The site is located near several abandoned uranium mines, which presented the opportunity to discuss the nearly 500 abandoned uranium mines on the Navajo Nation and the cleanup efforts.

President Begaye also spoke in support of S.664, the Navajo Utah Water Rights Settlement Act of 2017. If passed, the Navajo Nation will have the right to use up to 81,500 acre-feet per year of surface and groundwater from the Upper Colorado River Basin in Utah

The Navajo-Hopi Land Commission discussed the Office of Navajo and Hopi Indian Relocation (ONHIR), which was established to support relocation for the displaced. However, ONHIR has not fulfilled its obligations and must remain open until it does. The Division of Community Development Rural Addressing presented on the addressing process on the Navajo Nation. Addressing can be a significant challenge for RECA claimants, voting registration, and Lifeline support.

The trip was organized by the Navajo Nation Washington Office.