“We won half the battle today!” That was the headline on the Facebook page of the Diné Community Advocacy Alliance last week.
As astute Inside Track readers will recall, the Navajo Nation Council officially passed two bills in January related to food pricing. One bill would have instituted a two percent tax on all unhealthy food and beverages sold within the Navajo Nation. The second bill removed a five percent tax on fruits, vegetables and water. Both bills were vetoed by President Ben Shelly because of concerns he had that the legislation would be difficult to implement and enforce.
Council members last week held votes to override both vetoes. Health advocates faced a huge challenge in needing a super majority of 16 votes to successfully override the vetoes. After a very contentious floor session, the council voted 13-6 to override the veto on legislation increasing the tax on junk food – three votes shy of the 16 needed for victory. But health advocates rallied and scored a major victory when the council voted 19-1 to override the presidential veto of the legislation that will remove a five percent sales tax on fruits and vegetables sold within the Navajo Nation.
One of the leaders of the veto override campaign was professional golfer Notah Begay III. He wrote an opinion piece for the Albuquerque Journal in which he offered his thanks for the advocates who are driving positive change on Navajo land. “I continue to be inspired by the grass-roots movement among the Navajo people that led to this important legislation.The Diné Community Advocacy Alliance has worked tirelessly to provide education about returning to our traditional healthy lifestyles.,” he wrote.
Supporters pledged to continue pushing for the junk food tax. If enacted, the tribe will be among the first governments to institute such a tax.
Begay and his colleagues noted that the junk food tax is not about money, but rather about helping educate people about the need to make healthier choices.
“This message goes much further than a simple tax, it’ll resonate and ripple through Indian country saying that we finally have a government that is willing to take a stand on this issue,” said Begay, who testified before the council.