Junk Food Tax will hit at trading post level on Navajo Nation
WINDOW ROCK, ARIZONA — Diné Community Advocacy Alliance (DCAA) is celebrating the historic passage by the Navajo Nation Council of two DCAA legislative initiatives that the young grassroots organization had championed as a way to begin to improve the health and nutrition of citizens on the Navajo Nation, who suffer high rates of diabetes, heart disease and other diet-related illnesses. The legislation is believed to be the very first of its kind not only in Indian Country, but in the entire United States.
On the last day of the council’s weeklong winter session last Thursday, Jan. 30, the council passed a tax on junk food and eliminated a tax on fresh, healthy foods. Last summer, the council had rejected these same initiatives. The successful initiative is now known as the “Healthy Diné Nation Act.”
DCAA Project Manager Gloria Begay said: “We worked hard for nearly two years on this effort, and to finally achieve this successful result is both rewarding and amazing, especially after failing to get it passed last July. We are elated for what this will mean for the health and well-being of the Navajo Nation and the standard it sets for other Indian nations and the U.S. overall. We sincerely thank the visionary council delegates who supported this legislation.”
The Healthy Diné Nation Act imposes a two percent sales tax, in addition to the Navajo Nation’s current five percent sales tax, on “junk food” sold within the Navajo Nation. The legislation was sponsored by Council Delegate Danny Simpson, who said the sales tax increase is part of an overall effort to promote healthy living and bring awareness to the diabetes epidemic that is affecting a growing number of Navajo people. “Each one of us here has a relative that’s diabetic and we face that fact every single day,” Simpson said in a Navajo Nation Council press release.
The legislation takes aim at sweetened beverages and snacks low in essential nutrients and high in salt, fat and sugar, including chips, candy, cookies and pastries, but it excludes nuts, nut butters and seeds. According to the council, the revenue collected from the two percent sales tax will be deposited into a Community Wellness Development Projects Fund to be administered by the Navajo Nation Division of Community Development, following the development of a fund-management plan. The revenue will be used by Navajo chapters to develop community parks, basketball courts, walking, running and bike trails, community gardens, family picnic grounds, and health education classes.
Following passage of the Healthy Diné Nation Act, the council also passed a separate bill that eliminates the current five percent sales tax on fresh fruits and vegetables to encourage the purchase and consumption of high-quality foods.
Begay said DCAA received support from many individuals, Navajo organizations and communities. Also, she noted that DCAA was supported financially and otherwise in its successful effort by First Nations Development Institute, a Colorado-based national Native American nonprofit organization that works to improve Native American economies and communities. Michael Roberts, First Nations president, noted that this legislative session of the Navajo Nation is groundbreaking, not only for Indian Country but for the United States. “With the efforts of DCAA, the Navajo Nation became the first in the U.S. to successfully pass such legislation. DCAA and the Navajo Nation should be commended for their efforts to proactively explore legislative efforts to combat the detrimental health issues troubling Navajo and other Indian communities across the country.”
Council Delegate Nelson BeGaye praised DCAA’s work: “You have really opened the eyes of the people. You’ve truly opened my eyes and you’ve truly opened the delegates’ eyes and it’s starting to reach the chapters as well. You’ve done a good job. We need to figure out how we can all continue to work together to continue lowering the diabetes rate.”