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Navajo Nation accepts $2.6 million from First Things First

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ST. MICHAELS, Ariz. – Navajo Nation President Joe Shirley Jr. and First Lady Vikki Shirley received a total of $3.1 million from the new Arizona nonprofit program First Things First to develop culturally relevant early child care and education programs for children aged newborn to five years old.

Making the presentation of a check for $2.6 million, plus an additional $572,000, at the Karigan Child Care Center March 3 was Nadine Mathis Basha, board chair of First Things First of Arizona and the first recipient of the University of Arizona’s Frances McClelland Institute for Children, Youth, and Families Vision Award. The award, the first to be presented, was given to Basha March 6.

“First Things First of Arizona and the Navajo Nation have an unprecedented opportunity to work in partnership to build an early childhood system that affords all children an equal chance to reach their full potential,” she said.

Basha said the First Things First board met last week and decided to add funding to some of the regional partnership councils because of the vast distances their members must travel.

First Things First is the nonprofit organization that oversees the use of state taxes collected from tobacco sales. Basha’s vision and leadership have been credited with the concept and 2006 statewide voter approval of the initiative.

In accepting the check on behalf of the Navajo Nation Regional Partnership Council, President Shirley said the Navajo Nation appreciates all that Basha and her husband, Eddie Basha, have done for Navajos and the Navajo Nation. He said that he, his wife and Navajo voters worked to get the First Things First initiative approved in 2006.

Now, he said, the program will benefit some 12,000 Navajo children.

“For about a good six years, we’ve been advocating education first, children first, the young ones first,” he said. “That’s the way it has been. And the reason being; they’re our future, and it’s going to be them, they’re going to be able to carry on our government, our nation, our way of life, our land.”

He said that one of the most important needs that affects every Navajo family at one time or another is the need for quality child care.

“Each one of our communities – we have 110 – need child care centers, and we’re working as hard as we can to bring it to fruition, and this is one of the ways in which we are doing it.”

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In the Navajo program, children learn to speak in the Navajo language and cultural aspects of the program are strongly encouraged.

“I’d like to see us continue to be 100 years down the road, 500 years, and the secret is in the language. If we can continue the language, we will continue to sing the sacred songs, continue to say the sacred prayers and carry on with our way of life.”

First Lady Shirley, who is a member of the Navajo Nation Regional Partnership Council for First Things First, said the money means improvements in the quality of child care services across the Navajo Nation. “We’ve been told this $2.6 million will continue for the next 10 years, that’s guaranteed. If things continue the way they are. … we’re guaranteed $26 million from this program.”

She said the uses of the money are:

• To increase culturally-responsive quality early care and education in child care centers.

• Help home-based child care providers across Navajo Nation become licensed.

• Increase the number of well-trained child care education professionals through educational assistance, scholarships and incentives to pursue degrees.

• Support and increase family education and outreach.

Dr. Paula Curley, state policy and advocacy director for Save the Children, said the Karigan Center is one of 28 Navajo centers.

“We all realize that early intervention is what we need to have happen for the children of the Navajo Nation and for the children throughout the country,” Curley said.

Alfred Yazzie, Navajo Nation Child Care and Development program manager, said there is a great amount of need in the nation.

“It’s so easy to say we’re going to improve this and that, but it takes a lot of money.” He said the Karigan Center is the only one on the Navajo Nation equipped as well as it is after 10 years. “There’s no other child care center on Navajo like this. We’re always at full capacity. We’re practically run over by children.”

He said there were 45 children on standby to get into the program and there are more than 40 staff working there. “We need people who can come in and help young parents, young families. We’re so happy this initiative is coming through.”

Also attending the presentation was Navajo Nation Council Education Committee Chairman Andy Ayze and Council Delegate Larry Anderson. Ayze read a letter of support for First Things First.

“First Things First is going to bring a brighter future to our young children, so we wanted to say thank you.”