Press Releases

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator John Barrasso (R-WY), current chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs (SCIA), and former chairman and current committee member Senator John McCain (R-AZ), toured St. Michael Indian School and participated in a roundtable discussion focusing on “Safeguarding Tribal Sovereignty, Economic Development, and Education on the Navajo Nation” on Friday September 16, 2016 in St. Michaels, Arizona.

St. Michael Indian School is a private school that offers kindergarten through 12th grade on the Navajo Nation. Unlike many underperforming Bureau of Indian Education (BIE)-run schools, St. Michael boasts a graduation rate of over 90 percent and a very high college acceptance rate. Some parents across Navajo Nation choose to drive more than two hours each way so their children can attend the school. During the visit, the senators toured the school’s facilities and met with administrators, teachers, and students to discuss their efforts to expand educational choice for Native American students. Just last week, SCIA passed Senator McCain’s Native American Education Opportunity Act, which would offer customized education options, including private tuition scholarships to Native American K-12 students living on Indian reservations as an alternative to attending BIE schools, which, despite their high cost, include some of the most underperforming schools in the nation.

Click here to view pictures from the senators’ visit to St. Michael Indian School. 

The roundtable featured several leaders from the Navajo Nation, including the Honorable Russell Begaye, president of the Navajo Nation; the Honorable Jonathan Nez, vice president of the Navajo Nation; and the Honorable LoRenzo Bates, speaker of the Navajo Nation Council.

During the roundtable discussion, the senators’ highlighted their legislative efforts to address critical priorities for Navajo Nation, including economic development, education reform, tribal dam maintenance and protecting tribal artifacts from being auctioned and sold overseas. They also discussed their work holding the EPA accountable for the Gold King Mine disaster.

“Some of the issues we face on the Navajo Nation you have really helped us with, for example the Gold King Mine,” said President Begaye. “Of course we had to file suit to really expedite the reimbursements of farmers for damages that they incurred a year ago. And we know that it is going to continue. The losses will continue for more than just a year or two years…. these farmers depend on the farm land for their annual income. That is how they put food on the table, pay their bills, and buy clothes for their children and to this day, they have not been reimbursed yet.”

Senator McCain responded by highlighting action the Senate took as part of the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) of 2016: “Just yesterday, we passed an amendment to the WRDA bill, to accelerate reimbursements that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) owes to the tribe for the emergency,” said Senator McCain. “And it also requires the EPA to support more soil quality monitoring, so that we can assess the damage there. So that is in legislation we passed just yesterday through the Senate, and I am confident that it would be signed by the President of the United States.”

Later in the roundtable, President Begaye thanked the committee for their attention to the Gold King Mine issue: “Thank you for the follow up hearing in Phoenix that really, I believe, made a statement to say that: ‘We are serious. This is not going to be a onetime issue but this is important to Capitol Hill and to the Navajo people.’ And your support by walking with us has been really commendable. So thank you.”  

Click here to view pictures from the roundtable discussion.