Up to 20 Navajo college students will gain valuable exposure to on-reservation economic development through paid internships to work on the design and construction of a $10 million travel center project slated for completion in summer 2019. The Navajo Nation is currently developing and building the travel center—including a convenience store, gas station and truck service station—near the Interstate 40 exit to the tribe’s Twin Arrows Navajo Casino Resort, located 24 miles east of Flagstaff, Arizona. Tribal officials broke ground on the project on September 20.
In addition to earning pay, interns will receive college credit for their work, while they also learn about management, marketing and human resources. The tribe has already named eight interns; more will be selected from tribal and state universities. “We really lifted the hood and showed them all the inner workings of this business,” Brian Parrish, interim chief executive of the Navajo Nation Gaming Enterprise, told the AP.
“I thought before, I wanted to leave the reservation. But what they’ve done is create something new and introduce me to the idea of helping the people,” Tristan Swatts, 22, who graduated from Northern Arizona University this spring, told the Associated Press.
Meanwhile, tribal members will receive preference for the 200 construction jobs and the 35 full-time jobs, reported the Associated Press.
Tribal council delegates and the Navajo Nation Gaming Enterprise finalized a funding agreement this summer for the $10 million project. Grant and loan money is provided by the Síhasin Fund, established through a $554 million settlement in 2014 of a lawsuit that alleged the federal government mismanaged the tribe’s natural resources.
Officially called the Síhasin Fund Twin Arrows Travel Center Development Expenditure Plan, the agreement included the requirement that the project offer an educational component—hence the creation of the internship program, said Navajo Nation Gaming Enterprise CEO Brian Parrish.
Parish added that the new development will enhance the tribe’s overall economy by attracting more visitors to Twin Arrows, reported the Navajo-Hopi Observer.
“It’s good to see Navajo gaming progressing. The Navajo Nation Council and its Síhasin Fund Subcommittee saw the economic development afforded by I-40 traffic and patrons at Twin Arrows Navajo Casino Resort and despite obstacles, pushed forward. We will now see a grand travel center,” Council Delegate Leonard Tsosie, who sponsored the legislation for the expenditure plan, told the Navajo-Hopi Observer.