When communities enact a new tax, the last thing they want is to see the revenue from that tax begin to dwindle. But, that’s exactly what’s happening within the Navajo Nation, and Gloria Ann Begay, executive director for the Diné Food Sovereignty Alliance couldn’t be happier about it.
“The tax on unhealthy food and drinks encourages consumers to reach for healthier alternatives, or to at least buy fewer unhealthy options,” said Begay. “For those who do choose to buy unhealthy items, the revenue from the tax supports much-needed programing within Navajo Nation.”
The tax on unhealthy beverages – like sugary drinks – and foods like candy, chips and frozen desserts, is a result of the Navajo Nation Council vote to extend the Healthy Diné Nation Act (HDNA) of 2014. It places a 2% tax on calorie-dense food and drinks with little-to-no nutritional value that are sold within tribal boundaries. It also waives 6% tax on healthy foods like fruits and vegetables. The HDNA Act continues with no sunset date with approval of the full Navajo Nation Council.
“Since the first implementation of the tax, the Navajo Nation has received a gross revenue of $7.58 million for chapter communities with an average of $13,171 being allocated towards wellness projects per community,” said Council Delegate Amber Kanazbah Crotty (Cove, Toadlena/Two Grey Hills, Red Valley, Tsé’ałnáoozt’i’í, Sheepsprings, Beclabito, Gad’ii’áhí/Tó Ko’í), the sponsor of the legislation.
Diné Food Sovereignty Alliance in partnership with Navajo Epidemiology Center, Northern Arizona University, Community Outreach and Patient Empowerment, Diné Community Advocacy Alliance and Navajo Nation Division of Community Development harnessed their knowledge, resources and familiarity with the HDNA policy and program to engage new tribal leaders and community members as they considered the importance of the reauthorization of the act.
“This wouldn’t have been possible without the dedicated efforts of grassroots advocates who used data, history and passion for reversing chronic health conditions that harm the community due to the access of unhealthy foods and drinks in the territory,” said Begay who was tapped to lead advocacy efforts in 2012 when research shed light on the high rates of type 2 diabetes in Navajo Nation.
Funding awarded by Voices for Healthy Kids was instrumental in dissemination of evaluation materials of the impact of the tax. Outreach efforts, led by Gloria Begay of the Dine' Food Sovereignty Alliance, occurred directly with the Navajo Nation Tribal Council as well as through the most influential media outlets on the Navajo Nation to reach community members.
“The data demonstrates that the tax works and has been instrumental in helping families and individuals make better choices regarding the food and drinks they purchase,” explained Begay. “Additionally, the tax has funded more than 1,300 wellness projects across Navajo Nation, including community fitness classes, greenhouses, youth clubs, clean water initiatives, Navajo language and culture classes, and more. Providing education on the health of the Navajo people and the importance of healthy habits was always the main priority for the legislation.”
With the reauthorization, the work continues for advocates like Begay who are committed to making sure all children, but especially those of Navajo heritage, grow up healthy.