This story is a staff report from The Paper.

Today, U.S. Representative Melanie Stansbury (N.M.-01) and community leaders of the To’Hajiilee Chapter of the Navajo Nation announced that the FY2023 Omnibus Budget voted out of the Senate includes over $90.4 million to replace the To’Hajiilee Community School in a major victory after years of advocacy by the community. 

The To’Hajiilee Community School is a Tribally-Controlled School and the only school in the community serving grades K-12. Built in 1935 on a flood plain as a U.S.-government run Indian Boarding School, the To’Hajiilee community has sought to rebuild the new Tribally-Controlled school on higher ground. The school has experienced regular flooding, sections of the facility have been deemed unsafe by inspectors, and the school has been forced to shutter classrooms and cancel instruction. 

“I am truly overjoyed to have helped secure this funding after years of work by the community. This $90 million will enable To’Hajiilee to build a state-of-the-art school, rooted in the values, culture, and language of the community that will serve families for generations to come,” said Rep. Stansbury. “As we celebrate this huge victory, we continue the fight to fund Tribal and BIE schools across the country. We have a lot of work ahead.”

“As Vice President of To’Hajiilee Navajo Community, I would like to give thanks to Congresswoman, Melanie Stanbury and her Staff for advocating on behalf of To’Hajiilee Navajo Community, as well as the rest of the working Legislators in Washington, D.C., for their hard work and working diligently to approve $90.4 Million dollars for a new school for our To’Hajiilee Navajo Scholars,” said Nora J. Morris, Vice President of the Cañoncito Band of Navajos. “We all have been working alongside local government leaders and To’Hajiilee Navajo Community School Board, Inc., and meeting with the Governmental Agency and Delegation advocating for funding for our school. Our Children deserve a new school, and we appreciate the funding and all your help. Ahéhee’.”

“I am excited and relieved that our children, teachers, and staff will soon have a new, safe, and beautiful school to grow in for generations to come. Support for this was not overnight! We invited anyone and everyone willing to listen and visit our campus so that we could show them the rapidly deteriorating foundation, the excessive damage from multiple floodings, and the shifting walls,” said To’Hajiilee Community School Board Vice President Paulene Abeyta. “Visitors would leave our campus with overwhelming concern of the conditions they witnessed. Our Board & Administration worked tirelessly with local chapter leadership and Congresswoman Stansbury & former Congresswoman Haaland to get the support needed to make this happen.”

Background

Rep. Stansbury has been fighting for funding to build a new To’Hajiilee Community School since she was sworn into office in June 2021. During budget negotiations in August 2021, she led efforts to expand Bureau of Indian Education (BIE) construction funding and personally fought to ensure this $90 million for To’Hajiilee was included in the FY2023 Budget.

In April 2022, Stansbury led 27 colleagues in a bipartisan letter to the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies urging the Committee to address the historic injustice of inadequate funding for BIE.

Rep. Stansbury will continue her work to address the $4.5 billion backlog in BIE school funding, which affects over 48,000 Indigenous students across the United States.