President Russell Begaye speaks to students from the Stanford Graduate School of Business about how the Navajo Nation is changing its approach to infrastructure and economic development.
Published December 11, 2017
STANFORD UNIVERSITY – On Thursday, Dec. 7, President Russell Begaye spoke before the Stanford Graduate School of Business addressing the issues that the Navajo Nation faces in economic development.
“Beyond the tenacity of our people, we are also creative and have the ability to make things happen,” President Begaye said. “We are changing the way we think about and approach infrastructure and economic development.”
The president said that many issues that the Nation faces stem from the concept of sovereignty and how the Nation asserts itself in establishing a nation-to-nation relationship with the federal government. The Treaty of 1868 signed between the federal government and the Navajo Nation commits the government to the doctrine of trust responsibility.
“When treaties were signed with Navajo, the government committed to providing things like health care, education and infrastructure,” he said. “These treaties are the equivalent of signing treaties with nations like Australia, Europe or China. Yet, we have to remind the government of this. When they issue usfunds, it’s not because we are a minority, it’s their contractual obligation.”
Conversely, President Begaye said reliance on federal funding can cause tribal nations to become dependent on the federal government. As sovereign nations, it’s critical that tribes take more control over policies that guide areas like economic development.
“How do we change dependency on outside resources?” the president asked. “Our people have suffered years of living with a lack of infrastructure that has fostered dependency on federal assistance. We need to become more self-sufficient in every area.”
The Nation has looked closely at regulations that affect economic development to find language that provides for tax breaks or benefits on tribal land. “We are monitoring tax bills to implement any tax breaks that are applicable to our nations as sovereigns,” he said.
Creativity is key in developing a path forward in expanding economic opportunities.
“We need a new approach to economic development. With Navajo, we are changing the way we think and approach this issue,” he said.
To diversify its economic portfolio, the Nation has moved forward in developing a tax-exempt development corporation, advanced manufacturing enterprises, an osteopathic school of medicine and biotechnical endeavors.
“We have the creative mindset to manufacture aircraft parts. Our launching of a Navajo managed care organization could net the tribe over $132 million dollars a year and creating a school of medicine will help us to produce our own doctors,” President Begaye said.
In business, you have to stay one step ahead of innovation and competition.
“This is what business is about. You have to be creative, innovative and market-driven,” said the president.
President Begaye toured the Stanford Campus visiting the Native American Culture Center, the bioengineering lab and concluded his visit by speaking to the Navajo Language class.