6/17/2014 10:22:00 AM President Shelly meets with Native American Disability Law Center to discuss rights of disabled Navajos
FARMINGTON, N.M.-The disabled citizens of the Navajo Nation have rights.
The protection of such rights was the topic of discussion during a recent meeting in Farmington to assist disabled Navajos facing a multitude of issues.
Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly met with the Navajo Nation Advisory Council on Disabilities and the Native American Disability Law Center, Inc. to discuss legislation going through the tribal process.
According to the Law Center, 25,500 people, or 29.9 percent of Navajos between the ages of 21 and 54 have a disability. For Navajos 64 or older, 70 percent have a disability.
"We need to do something for the disabled. They are never really filtered into the main society of Navajo," Shelly said. "It's because of the laws that we have."
He said the number of disabled citizens is increasing, especially with many veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces returning home with medical injuries from the battlefields.
Shelly said meeting the needs of these citizens is a priority for the Navajo Nation Executive Branch and that plans are underway for an executive order for tribal divisions, departments and programs to carry out accessibility efforts on behalf of the disabled.
"The three branches need to work together to get these laws in place on behalf our disabled Navajos," Shelly said.
Hoskie Benally Jr., the president of the Advisory Council, said support is needed for passage of the Navajo Adult Guardianship Act of 2014.
The act is focused on protecting the rights of the disabled and is the first time amendments have been made to the tribal statutes for the handicapped since 1945.
"Current law really doesn't have anything about court proceedings. Every judge calls the shots on how they're going to review the case," Benally said. "There's no set procedure."
The new act was written in accordance with Navajo Fundamental Law, which reflects the Navajo expression, t'aabi boholniih, which means "it is up to the person."
"With this new proposed act we're saying that according to Fundamental Law, all Navajos have the right for making their own decisions," Benally said.
Current laws for guardianship of the disabled vary, based on the severity of the disability.
Some individuals require a guardian to make decisions on their behalf. Others can make their own decisions because their disabilities are physical rather than cognitive.
However, some cases have moved forward through the courts in which disabled Navajos had guardianships imposed upon them without the opportunity to address the court on the guardianship.
"The ward loses all their rights, whether it be their finances, where they're going to live or where they're going to school. That's what's happening now," Benally said.
The Department of Justice has reviewed the act. It was also posted on the Navajo Nation Council website for public comment.
The Navajo Adult Guardianship Act of 2014 passed the Law and Order Committee on April 14 and the Health, Education and Human Services Committee two days later on April 16.
On May 16, the Naabik'iyati' Committee reviewed the act during a scheduled work session. The guardianship act was among legislation reviewed during a special session of the Naabik'iyati' Committee May 30.
The Advisory Council requested Shelly assist with developing three resolutions on behalf of the disabled citizens of the Nation.
The first would require an earmark of 5 to 8 percent of the annual chapter allocations to address accessibility deficiencies at each chapter. Such deficiencies include the lack of ramps and the need for wider doorways.
The second resolution would mandate that Navajo divisions and departments pay a rental fee for tribally owned buildings to be used to address site accessibility deficiencies.
The third resolution would require private businesses to draft business leases in compliance with the Navajo Nation Vocational Rehabilitation and Opportunities for the Handicap Act of 1984.
"We will work on your behalf," Shelly said. "Your needs have not been forgotten."