Diné Policy Institute Offers Research and Analysis

Nov 8th, 2015 | By | Category: 27-2: American Indian Law, Tribal College News
By Lori Tapahonso

On July 21, 2015, as the Navajo Nation voted on the controversial issue of language fluency requirements for the tribe’s president, the Diné Policy Institute (DPI), a tribal research and policy analysis group at Diné College, had a front row seat at the tribe’s capital in Window Rock, Arizona. Analyzing issues such as the language referendum is just one of the many undertakings at DPI.

The institute was established in 2006, with a vision to provide policy research and analysis for the Navajo Nation that was informed by the Diné philosophical framework of Nitsáhákees (thinking), Nahat’á (planning), Iiná (living), and Siihasin (reflecting). DPI advocates a vision of a Navajo Nation government that is accountable to its citizens and capable of raising their quality of life. The institute commits itself to conducting high-quality, independent research that is grounded in fundamental Diné law. Based on its research, DPI provides innovative, practical recommendations that strengthen the Navajo government and foster the economic and social welfare of all Navajos.

The college recently named Moroni T. Benally as director of the institute. Benally, himself a former candidate for Navajo Nation president, was instrumental in building the policy analysis framework for conducting research from a Navajo perspective. He developed this unique, culturally based approach when he previously worked for DPI in 2008 as a policy analyst under the former chief justice of the Navajo Nation Supreme Court, the Honorable Robert Yazzie. Since taking the reigns as director, Benally has been busy gathering data, conducting research, and planning symposiums.

DPI often examines pressure points where the mainstream meets the Navajo Nation. According to DPI, these points are exactly where the majority of Navajo youth and working families experience relevant and quality-of-life issues today. Issues such as sexuality and gender identity, wage gaps, sovereignty, and language preservation are just a few hot topics. In the matter of language fluency, DPI broke the issue down into fundamental terms for voters prior to the special referendum last summer. DPI distributed the information to the public via flyers and through social media in hopes of helping citizens to cast an informed vote. DPI also hosted a symposium that dealt with issues of identity, suicide, same-sex marriage, and homelessness. Many of these matters are often not discussed publicly due to cultural taboos surrounding sexuality. It is at this crucial intersection between tradition and mainstream thinking that DPI strives to conduct its analyses.

Benally hopes that DPI research and public information inspires a new generation of Navajo intellectuals. “I hope to be able to offer Navajo management certificates in political and organizational performance management, as well as in policy analysis,” he says. “Providing these training courses that are tailored to the Navajo Nation is essential in exercising political sovereignty.”

In an effort to increase its capacity and visibility, DPI is working on raising funds from private, nonprofit, and public sectors. As a leader in tribal policy research, DPI strives to become a model for tribal communities nationwide to conduct similar research that can be used to hold their own tribal governments accountable to their citizens.

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