The Navajo Nation

Office of the President

     The Navajo Nation

Office of the President

President Buu Nygren meets with Utah Lt. Governor Deidre Henderson

WINDOW ROCK, Ariz. — Lt. Governor Deidre Henderson came to the Navajo Nation to visit with President Buu Nygren on Wednesday.

The two leaders met for a few hours and discussed a variety of issues ranging from language preservation, roads and providing electricity and running water for Navajo people who don’t have it.

Before their meeting, President Nygren introduced Lt. Gov. Henderson to the Navajo Nation’s soft drink, Navajo Fizz.

Henderson chose root beer as her choice of drinks. She took a sip and liked it.

“That was really good,” Lt. Gov. Henderson said.

President Nygren then took a few minutes of his experience skateboarding with Tony Hawk in Two Grey Hills, N.M. He mentioned the skateboard he used, which was gifted to him by artist Dio’rr Greenwood, during the skateboard park dedication.

The two got down to business and opened their talk with the construction of a new college in Monument Valley, Utah. Currently, the college, Utah State University, or USU, leases a building, which, according to Lt. Gov. Henderson, was in bad shape.

“I went and saw it and it’s far worse than anything you could imagine, it’s terrible,” she said.

Henderson said the state got $5 million in funding, along with USU’s $4 million, to help construct a new building.

The new building would be built by the Monument Valley High School. In addition to serving as a college, the school would also serve as a technical school for high school students.

President Nygren said he’d discuss it with the council delegates who represent the area.

“We can have that discussion with Herman Daniels and Shaandiin Parrish and Curtis Yanito; they represent that area,” President Nygren said.

He told Henderson he met with USU’s president Noelle Cockette about plans for the future site of the campus on the Navajo Nation.

President Nygren said to Henderson he’s planning to visit Brigham Young University to get a better understanding of how the college is able to teach the Navajo language fairly quickly.

“How do we save our language on Navajo?” President Nygren asked Lt. Gov. Henderson. “A lot of our young people they want to learn our language. As a Nation, we haven’t said, ‘We’re going to put five million dollars aside, we’re going to create our own comprehensive language program.’ We haven’t done that. But it seems like the church does a great job. After eight weeks it seems people are speaking great Navajo after they complete the course.”

The President said he was planning on visiting BYU soon.

“We would love to help facilitate anything, anything that would be helpful there,” said Lt. Gov. Henderson.

Henderson brought the Westwater community, a small community of Navajos living on fee-simple land about a quarter mile near Blanding, Utah. The tribe purchased the land from the Bureau of Land Management in 1986 for Navajos who’ve called the area their traditional homelands.

Westwater is comprised of 29 homes, all of the homes do not have running water. In September of last year, power lines to provide electricity were installed for all of the homes.

Next for the Westwater community is running water.

In July of last year, Blanding approved a memorandum of understanding with the state of Utah, Navajo Nation, NTUA, and San Juan County to bring running drinkable water to the Navajo residents.

The Westwater community members have been hauling their water.

Blanding inked the deal after the state awarded it with a $3.5 million grant from the American Rescue Plan Act for a deep-water well with arsenic treatment. The much-needed well will help supplement water for Westwater and Blanding City.

The Navajo Nation appropriated $5.5 million for water infrastructure on the Westwater side. Blanding and San Juan County received additional funds for water infrastructure design and research.

Henderson suggested they could visit the community when the President was available. The Lt. Governor added the little community was situated near a USU building that is equipped with electricity, water and green grass.

“You can stand on the road there in front of the homes in Westwater and look across the little the little ravine and see Utah State University,” Lt. Gov. Henderson explained. “It’s got green grass everywhere, street lamps and a garden. There’s none of that course (in Westwater). It’s very stark difference and it’s so close.”

Larry Echohawk, the former Assistant U.S. Secretary of the Interior from 2009-2012, said the Navajo Nation could making Westwater into trust land since it is the original Navajo homeland.

“That’s of course a decision for the Nation to decide whether they would like to do that,” Echohawk said. “This is the kind of thing that is possible.”

The President indicated he would arrange a visit soon with Henderson.

“I’ll make that commitment to go with you,” President Nygren said.

Henderson said, in January, while driving to the Navajo Nation inauguration, she accidentally drove on Highway 261, from Salt Lake City.

The highway goes from paved to unpaved before turning into a series of steep switchbacks laden with washboards down 1,200-feet of a winding graveled road.

To upgrade the graveled road, the two estimated it could cost about $200 million.

The two leaders concluded their meeting with mutton stew and frybread at Quality Inn in Window Rock.