Navajo Nation report calls for end to discrimination

Indian Country Today reports that the Navajo Nation Human Rights Commission has called for an “end to an oppressive and subservient relationship that existed and exists between the Navajo and its non-indigenous neighbor.”

The NNHRC report compiled accounts of more than 400 people who attended the 25 public hearings in late 2008 and 2009 to assess race relations between Navajos and non-Navajos.

Among other recommendations, the NNHRC called for the Navajo Nation to support its efforts to obtain permanent observer status within the United Nations “until recognition as a sovereign nation is obtained.”

The NNHRC assigned priority to discrimination complaints concerning sacred sites, the environment, and unattended deaths, describing them as “four significant themes” running throughout the hearings and requiring further action.

Other areas of discrimination exist in employment, public accommodations, border town business practices, economic development, and racial profiling and sentencing, the NNHRC found.

“Families were removed from traditional ancestral lands that protected and served as a means of subsistence,” the report said of the relocation that began in 1974. “For the relocatees, the monetary benefits of new houses and some additional cash was not worth the isolation and estrangement of a traditional life way.”

To Navajo families relocated to communities outside the Navajo Nation, “along with not being accepted into the new communities, these individuals are faced with deteriorating homes, no stable income, loss of cultural identity, and a limitation on grazing rights,” the commission said.

In another area, environmental degradation continues, while “sacred sites were designated and identified by Navajo deities since time immemorial,” the NNHRC noted, and they cannot be left unprotected because they constitute the foundation of the Diné Life Way, or fundamental law, adopted in 2002 as the primary law of the Navajo Nation.

The commission is also concerned about unsolved deaths, including those of 11 Navajos in Winslow, Ariz. and another in Bloomfield, N.M., all of whom were subjected to apparent violence and subsequent inept law enforcement investigations.

“These deaths are all unfortunate and, regardless of the lifestyle the victims chose to live, a death, especially an unattended death, deserves the same investigative follow-through and litigation provided to other affluent citizens,” the commission said, contending that local officials investigate Navajo citizens’ unattended deaths less rigorously than similar deaths of others.

In employment, Navajo welders, pipefitters, electricians and carpenters may not report unsatisfactory and unsafe job conditions “for fear they may lose their jobs” in an economic climate where pre-recession unemployment rates were nearly 50 percent in some areas.

Other forms of discrimination were found in border town business practices, including loans to Navajos at 40 percent-plus interest rates, in restaurant seating practices, and in racial profiling and sentencing disparities: “It is a well-known fact that a disproportionate number of Native Americans are stopped, arrested and incarcerated in jails and detention centers in border towns.”

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