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Congress Aims to Fully Fund Road Maintenance on Tribal Lands

Navajo Nation

K-through-12 students on the Navajo Nation miss an average of a dozen days of school a year because of muddy, impassable roads. Now some members of Congress are trying to force the federal government to fully fund road maintenance on tribal lands. Arizona Public Radio’s Ryan Heinsius reports. 

The federal government currently pays for about 20 percent of tribal road repair costs, with counties picking up the rest. Navajo transportation officials say that’s not enough and are backing an amendment to the Interior Appropriations bill requiring the federal government fully fund the program.

Democratic Congresswoman Ann Kirkpatrick co-sponsored the amendment.

“I believe it is a civil rights issue. These Navajo children have the right to equal access to education and I stand together with the Navajo people to insist that the problem is fixed,” Kirkpatrick says.

Kirkpatrick says the amendment would add a million-and-a-half dollars to the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ road maintenance fund. It would be offset by making cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency’s budget.

There are more than 4,000 miles of dirt school-bus routes on the Navajo Nation. They often wash out after storms, preventing many of the tribe’s 85,000 students from getting to school. Poor road conditions also hinder emergency response and increase the number of vehicle crashes.

The House has approved the bill and it’s currently under consideration by the Senate. 

Ryan joined KNAU's newsroom as executive producer in 2013. He covers a broad range of stories from local, state and tribal politics to education, economy, energy and public lands issues, and frequently interviews internationally known and regional musicians. Ryan is an Edward R. Murrow Award winner and a frequent contributor to NPR.
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