Navajo send more than 350 to Hawaii education conference

Farmington, New Mexico (AP) 11-07

More than 360 people representing the Navajo Nation attended an education conference in Hawaii at an estimated cost of more than $500,000, the Daily Times reported.

Tribal officials declined to release details about who beyond top administrators traveled and at what cost. The trip made by some public school district officials in the region cost at least $1,400 a person, the newspaper reported.

The Navajo Nation is country’s largest American Indian reservation, spanning 27,000 square miles into parts of New Mexico, Utah and Arizona. Tribal membership stands at almost 300,000, second only to the Cherokee Nation.

Yet the Navajo Nation sent more than seven times the number of delegates as the Cherokees did to the conference. The Hawaii delegation had the most representatives with 545.

The National Indian Education Association hosted the four-day conference last month in Honolulu.

Some 362 representatives from the Navajo Nation preregistered for the conference and paid a $400 fee, said Kim Narcisso, accounting consultant for association. Forty-five people representing the Cherokee Nation registered early.

Narcisso said he believes the location was the biggest draw.

“Because it was Hawaii, we got good attendance,” Narcisso said. “But frankly, I was surprised to see so many people go.”

A total of 3,200 people attended this year’s conference, 1,000 of whom registered on site. A breakdown of onsite registration was not immediately available, but could boost the number of representatives from the Navajo Nation who attended.

About 1,900 people attended the association’s past two conferences, which were held in Anchorage and Denver.

The Central Consolidated School District on the western side of the Navajo reservation sent eight school officials, six Indian Education Committee members and two others to this year’s conference. While some school officials paid their own way to Hawaii, federal funds covered some of the trips.

The Navajo Nation Council sent 18 delegates to the conference, where such topics as early childhood education and issues facing American Indian education were discussed.

Council Speaker Lawrence Morgan said it’s not unusual for tribal lawmakers to travel on behalf of the sovereign nation.

“The council delegates attended the convention to represent the Navajo Nation through their committee oversight function,” said Morgan, who also made the trip. “As legislators of the nation, they needed to be involved and they did a wonderful job.”

Morgan’s office declined to say what the trip cost for each delegate and would not release information on how many delegates had attended past conferences of the association.

Joshua Lavar Butler, a spokesman for the Office of the Speaker, said the delegates’ travels were paid for through a fund for the council committees that is written into the fiscal year budget.

Former Education Committee Vice Chairman Wallace Charley said he believes the council sent more delegates than needed.

“That’s way, way too many,” he said. “Maybe they went to learn something. Well, we’re ready to hear what they’ve learned.”

Information from: The Daily Times,