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Learning Through Listening: Convening with the Navajo Nation

Posted by USDA Rural Business and Cooperative Administrator Sam Rikkers in Rural
Dec 13, 2016
Rural Business-Cooperative Service Administrator Sam Rikkers, Utah State Director Dave Conine and New Mexico State Director Terry Brunner
(From right) Rural Business-Cooperative Service Administrator Sam Rikkers, Utah State Director Dave Conine and New Mexico State Director Terry Brunner discuss economic development with members of Navajo Nation.

“We do not inherit the land from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.”—Navajo proverb

Last month, Rural Development and the Navajo Nation convened an economic development workshop involving an array of leaders and stakeholders from across the Navajo Nation and 14 Federal partners in Crownpoint, N.M. The convening gave me a chance to meet with Navajo Nation officials, university representatives, private business owners and nonprofit administrators.  All were focused on improving the economy and quality of life throughout the Navajo Nation.

Federal participants were invited to Navajo Technical University to listen to current challenges, understand existing goals, and brainstorm avenues for continued collaboration. I was struck by the organization, focus, pride and enthusiasm of all those involved as project champions presented a variety of innovative ideas to spur economic development and create jobs.  After each listening session, we engaged in open discussions to identify opportunities for meaningful partnerships.

For example, a solar project in the former Bennett Freeze area, a region without electricity or running water, would fit well with our Rural Energy for America Program.  We also discovered that a community and regional planning project is eligible for a Rural Business Development Grant.  Throughout the day, we connected water, housing, technical assistance and training, education, and community facility projects to programs across Rural Development and the Federal government.

While the complex challenges that face the Navajo Nation will not be solved in a single gathering, this event laid the groundwork for important long-term relationships.  Initial ideas were developed into concrete plans – along with clear opportunities for new and ongoing partnerships.  As these plans move toward applications for funding, and subsequently toward implementation, USDA will strive to maintain a strong and supportive relationship between the Navajo Nation and the Federal government.

As we drove back to Albuquerque that evening, I was awed by the allure of the New Mexico desert.  I marveled at the blanket of stars hanging above silhouettes of majestic plateaus. I can think of no place more fitting for such a beautiful people.

Sunrise at Navajo Nation
Sunrise at Navajo Nation
Category/Topic: Rural