Industrial Economy is not the Only Economy
Economic development is a word that gets tossed around a lot on the Navajo Nation. It seems that tossing the word around is as far as it gets. When you look at the economic development in our communities, chances are you are sure to find gas stations, Laundromats, car washes, or fast food chains.
There is also another form of economic development that we don't see, but it supplies our tribe with a significant amount of revenue.
Coal, natural gas, oil, uranium, and water are Navajo resources that are being exploited to power far-off cities and states, while we remain in the toxic shadow of their lethal pollution - and without our own sources of electricity. An economy is the creation and distribution of wealth in a community. Wealth could be in many forms, seeds, corn, sheep, horses, energy, or other items, such as cash.
The industrial economy is not the only economy. In fact, the cash reliance of an industrial economy is a relatively new addition to Navajo economic and trade systems. Indeed, agency offices, annuity payments, trading posts and other cash-based institutions that became so significant in our post-contact history were major elements in the unhealthy transformation of our economies from wealthy and self-reliant to poor and dependent.
To put it plainly, cash is not essential to an economy. Yet, we have become increasingly cash-dependent in indigenous communities, exchanging labor, natural resources and our gifts of art for cash in order to purchase goods and services. Some of this cash wealth is exchanged inside of our communities, but a substantially greater portion is spent outside our tribal borders.
Border towns flourish, but our roads are still filled with potholes, our school systems are hanging on by a thread, and our tribal employees are piled in open spaces because two major buildings they were overpopulating are condemned.
What does our current economic system mean for the Navajo working class? They have dedicated 20-40 years of their lives to make pennies and never have a chance at promotion because political appointees take all the high paying jobs. They work tirelessly everyday so delegates payroll goes out, so President Shelly's TA's are processed, all while being piled into modular buildings, conference rooms or auditoriums.
Fifty-five percent of Navajo citizens live off the Navajo Nation because there are no jobs. We must break free from the current economic system.
Buying Navajo Mine and renewing leases for NGS will only condemn our children to a life sentence of pollution and a weak economy. Perhaps we should focus on creating a stronger sustainable economy rather than spending thousands to keep these mines and power plants going. If these industries took care of us the way they take care of cities like Phoenix, Navajos would no longer be economic hostages.
Our communities have also laid the groundwork for agriculture on this continent. Yet today, we produce less and less of our own food and instead rely upon fast food, and foods imported from factory farms and monocropped fields far away. This is not a sustainable way to live. Recovering and restoring local food and energy production requires a conscious transformation and set of technological and economic leaps for our communities. We must decide whether we want to determine our own future, or lease it out for royalties.
In the end, developing food and energy sovereignty is a means to determine our own destiny.
Kim Smith St. Michaels, Ariz.