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Learning Through Listening: Convening with the 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.

Digital Connection Helps Kodiak Students

Cross-posted from the Alaska Dispatch News:

For students heading back to school this month in Kodiak, it's anything but "class as usual." Because at Kodiak Island Borough School District, 400 miles from Anchorage and accessible only by airplane and ferry, ConnectED investments in high-speed internet and new technology have transformed the student experience — with remarkable results.

Walking through Kodiak High School offers a glimpse at the transformative role education technology is playing in rural America. In one classroom, students use videoconferencing technology to connect with teachers and students from across the island — expanding their horizons through virtual field trips and never-before-available courses like music and civics. Math offerings, once limited to algebra, now include online and distance-learning courses all the way up through calculus. And before and after school, high-speed connectivity allows teachers to tap into interactive professional development and training to customize student learning based on individual needs.

Navajo and Hopi Expand the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow Network

Susie Wauneka has discovered a unique way to serve her community; by watching the weather. Wauneka is a proud member of Navajo Nation and is a Navajo Community Health Representative, providing critical health care services for members of the Nation. In December 2015, she discovered yet another way to serve—by using a Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow (CoCoRaHS) precipitation gauge to track the amount of rain and snow that falls.

The CoCoRaHS network is a unique grassroots network of thousands of trained volunteers of all ages and backgrounds working together to improve meteorological science by measuring and reporting precipitation amounts (rain, hail, and snow). CoCoRaHS is the largest provider of daily precipitation observations in the United States. The data from these observations are used by USDA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) for tools such as the United States Drought Monitor.

Navajo Nation Highlights the Value of the Environmental Justice

I recently traveled to New Mexico and Arizona to visit with local Navajo government leaders, Tribal College officials, and community members to hear about life on the Navajo Reservation. Michael Burns, from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), was also there to discuss an important new collaboration, the College/Underserved Community Partnership Program (CUPP).

CUPP develops partnerships between underserved communities and geographically close colleges and universities to provide technical support through faculty, students and staff at no cost to those communities. One of my top priorities is for USDA to help EPA expand the CUPP program to involve Tribal communities and colleges to advance the cause of environmental justice.

Native Grass Project on Utah Mesa Serves as Model for Navajo Nation

Grasses for grazing livestock are making a comeback on Utah’s McCracken Mesa thanks to a project partnership among the Aneth Chapter of the Navajo Nation, USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Known as the McCracken Mesa Rangeland Project, the Aneth Chapter is working to rehabilitate degraded land through a grass establishment project. McCracken Mesa rises 5,500 feet and covers 57,000 acres. An estimated 37,000 acres are intended for grazing livestock. But the mesa’s terrain, extreme weather and overgrazing from livestock have left much of the land bare.

The use of native grasses ensures a more sustainable ground cover for the mesa along with habitat for wildlife. Plants that are native to an area typically are the most suitable for restoration efforts because they boast advantages such as adaptability to the soil and have mastered surviving and thriving in the sometimes harsh environment.

Providing Water for Cattle on the Navajo Nation

Two chapters of the Navajo Nation in Utah are getting new livestock wells, thanks to USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service.

Members of the Teec Nos Pos and Red Mesa Chapters use wells drilled deep into the desert floor to water their 1,000 or so cattle. (A chapter is both a rural community and a unit of local government in the Navajo Nation.) But in the 2000s, the Navajo Nation Water Code Administration found, through testing, that these wells had high levels of arsenic, uranium and E. coli, rendering them non-potable for both humans and livestock.

A USDA Grant Gets the Home Lights Burning for an Elderly Navajo Nation Couple

Betty and Kee Acothley live miles off the beaten track in the former Bennett Freeze area on the Navajo Nation.

Kee once tended thousands of head of sheep at the remote sheep camp he and his wife Betty call home. Now, at 80, he keeps only around 70 head. He and Betty, 79, follow the sheep on foot every day, returning to their modest home before dusk.

With USDA Support, Navajo Nation’s Hardrock Chapter Opens New Multi-Purpose Building

The Navajo Nation’s Hardrock Chapter recently celebrated the opening of their new chapter house and multi-purpose center with a day of celebration, speeches, food and dance.

The building will serve as a safe and secure location for after school activities and also as a health center for seniors.

USDA Rural Development funded nearly $300,000 of the $1 million facility. The funds went to the Hardrock Council on Substance Abuse, Inc. who will also use the facility for wellness and counseling services.

Faces of the Forest: Meet Estelle Bowman

When Estelle Bowman was a little girl, she tagged along to meetings with attorneys who worked with her mother in the Bureau of Indian Affairs in Shiprock, N.M. As she grew older on the Navajo reservation town, she knew that she would one day become an attorney and serve her Navajo community.

Over the years, Bowman has done both and more. Today, the former district prosecutor for the Navajo Nation Department of Justice is the assistant director of the Office of Tribal Relations in Washington, D.C. for the U.S. Forest Service.

Young Navajo Woman Gains Engineering Experience with NRCS

Semira Crank is proud to be part of a growing number of young Navajo women breaking barriers to become scientists and engineers. Her story began in the small southeastern Utah community of Montezuma Creek in what is referred to as the “Utah Strip” portion of the Navajo Nation Reservation.