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  • Writer's pictureTribes Team

How do we keep our dollars in our community? Create good options to eat, shop, entertain, relax

Updated: Apr 3, 2021

Vision drawn by a Tuba City Youth member for this article

Special to TribeAwaken to offer Economic Diversification Strategy to former coal and power plant communities

Sitting in the backseat of our truck, bouncing around, head hitting the window because my face

was pressed against the glass. I was trying to take in all the sites as we meandered down a dirt road from our house to the main paved road about two miles away. I was excited to finally leave home because it was our once a month voyage to Flagstaff to get supplies and food. As a young child living on the Navajo reservation, there was not much opportunity to travel to new places. So to me, a trip to Flagstaff was like a mini vacation. It was a chance to eat out at a restaurant, go to a park and play on the playground, go to Walmart to shop for supplies at cheaper prices, maybe get a toy, and to buy food in bulk to feed our big family. As a kid, I always held out hope that we would even stay at a hotel or campground, it didnt matter the quality. We got up early in the morning, dressed in our best clothes, and piled into the truck to spend our day in Flag. In a way this is cultural or a way of life, as many Rez kids can relate to the excitement of going to town to shop.

Outside communities have benefited from our shopping and our dollars, and they haven’t always given back to us. According to research conducted by C.B.

Overall Income Earned on Navajo is $1.2 Billion per year

Richard Ellis in 2003, only 28.62% of money earned was spent inside the reservation. That means for every dollar earned, 71% leaves the reservation. This leakage has only grown since then as there has been very little increase in retail opportunities in our communities. This is due to the fact that the Navajo Nation lacks wholesale and retail outlets that attract our shoppers which results in a huge loss of revenue for the tribe. The Hopi tribe also loses revenue because there are only two grocery stores on the whole reservation. Consequently, larger businesses off reservation that sell all kinds of home items had record profits during this crisis and served as a key delivery of essential home items. Even though Tuba City offers a Bashas’, a Family Dollar, a General Dollar, a Variety Store, people still go out of town to shop. Moenkopi also has the Tuuvi Travel Center, Legacy Inn and Suites, and a Denny’s but those establishments appeal more to the tourists. These enterprises help put revenue and benefits back into the community, but it is not enough to make people want to stay and shop on the reservation.

The question is: what can we do to make people want to stay, dine, shop, relax, and even visit the Tuba City/Moenkopi area verses going to Flagstaff or Page?

For some it could be a Walmart, a grocery store with local food options, more cultural foods, a Chilis or Red Lobster that allows alcohol sale with dinner only, a coffee shop, a game room, a hotel on the property, an out door theatre. All these are pieces of the attraction that as a whole will drive people to the community verses off reservation. Of course now we are in a world with coronavirus so all must be available with utmost safety.

One proposition is to build a larger business as an anchor with smaller cafes, stores, entertainment and even cultural options around it, that way more people will choose to come to Tuba City and Moenkopi instead of going to a bordertown. The area located near the Moenkopi/Tuba City near Junction Highway 160 and State Route 264 offers a prime spot for economic development. It is an opportunity to create revenue for the Tuba City Area, Moenkopi, Hopi and Navajo Nations, and surrounding communities. The opportunity shouldn't be viewed as a small pie. That is small thinking. The real opportunity here is to increase the pie by joining forces to build more and thus attract more. Investment options and equity should be made available to nearby communities and villages to ensure the most investment of dollars from the area first and fairness to the region of benefits. Business options range from investment into the overall development or parts such as the restaurants, theatre, motel, and so forth. Once the wheel starts turning, the confidence is gained, the investments and streamlined leases are figured out, a game changer for tribes can be created.

Both areas have a large population, are rich in culture and offer attractions to traveling tourists. For instance, Tuba City is the Navajo Nation’s largest community and the Village of Moenkopi is situated at the western gateway to Hopi. Tourists travel Highway 160 to get to other areas such as Page, Monument Valley, the Four Corners Monument, and the Grand Canyon.

Due to the coronavirus, there is an immediate and significant opportunity for another local grocery store, a neighborhood Walmart center, outdoor dining establishments, and carefully planned entertainment such as an outdoor drive-in theatre. These can safely keep people on the reservation, and not venture into the COVID-19 hotspots in Arizona. The number of cases on the Navajo Nation is declining, but the numbers could increase again because of Arizona opening back up. The Navajo Nation has implemented a curfew from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. everyday and a 32 hour weekend curfew to help lower the number of COVID-19 cases. The Hopi Tribe has also declared a curfew order for their villages. As a result, many people travel out of town to stock up on supplies for the weekend.

However, people from the more rural communities come to Tuba City because it has one of the thirteen grocery stores on the Navajo Reservation. Whereas, there are only two grocery stores on the Hopi Reservation. Both reservations are a food desert. People sometimes travel over 100 miles to shop for groceries and supplies once a week because they are so far from town. There is also less access to fresh produce because the price is too high. This is due to the long distances the produce has to travel to the reservations. More development is needed to ensure that no one must drive two hours or more just to have fresh vegetables for dinner.

Creating a local independent shopping center could help Native people have access to fresh affordable food. Native Americans have higher levels of obesity and diet related diseases such as diabetes and heart disease. In order to bring these levels down, a well balanced diet combined with fresh fruits and vegetables can positively impact a person’s health and well being. A healthy diet is also one of the key ingredients for a strong immune system. Additionally, locally grown produce has many health benefits. Fruits and vegetables begin to lose their nutrients within twenty-four hours of being picked, so fresher produce is more nutritious. Another health benefit is that produce gets picked at its peak state. Fresh local produce is organic, free of chemical pesticides, fertilizers, and genetic modification. Locally grown beef, mutton, pork, and poultry also provide several health benefits. The meat contains more nutrients and vitamins because local farms tend to have small scale processing facilities, local meat is far less prone to hazards caused by contamination and food borne illnesses. Farms rely mostly on the land to provide basic needs for the animals which results in meat that is low in fat and high in nutrition. Navajo sheepherders for years have raised their lambs by moving their herds to areas that have medicinal and flavoring plants. The system of careful processing and herding have produced local meat that has been demonstrated to have omega-3 fatty acid content only second to wild salmon. This leads to creating an incentive program between an independent grocery store and local people as the Tuba City and Moenkopi areas are farming and ranching regions.

Nonetheless, the focus does not have to be solely on grocery. There are many vendors that sell traditional food, jewelry, clothing, and cultural items. The shopping centers could also support local artists by integrating these vendors into the shopping center to make it more culturally appropriate. This could also appeal to the many tourists that travel through the area. It would give them a place to stop and learn more about the Hopi and Navajo cultures and appreciate the traditional food and art Native people create therefore increasing the tourism revenue.

An important consideration is that the communities should partner and plan complimentary developments on both sides. It is possible to increase the pie as all the developments contemplated here would attract more customer and visitors. Knowing the communities has all these components of quality of life, many teams will, for example, want to hold tournaments here in many sports. With a well thought out shopping center, there is opportunity to provide an independent grocery store, socially distanced outdoor dining, coffee shops with wifi, arts and crafts shops, or drive-in theaters. A set of tools needs to be created to see who the most appropriate developer would be. Land needs to be set aside, a set of incentives created, a vision for the development with community input, and creative business structure such as building a public/private model that allow partnership between a local coop, a developer, investment by nearby villages and communities. One important step to speed the process is to identify preceptor requirements that have to be taken into consideration to fast track the lease. Chapters, Villages, and businesses need to be creative and flexible to meet the needs of their precious elders and youth, their consumers and visitors. These ventures can provide jobs and revenue from the profits generated from a local shopping center. Good development will ensure youth eventually grow to raise their families at home. Confidence gained and quality of life established will give hope to our people that they can achieve anything.

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