Shiprock — When Myk Redhouse spoke to the Navajo Nation Human Rights Commission, he shared a story about the night his transgender friend was attacked in Waterflow while traveling home from Farmington.
"They basically beat her up ... and left her to die in the median of the road," Redhouse told the commission.
The commission on Wednesday met at the Shiprock Chapter House to hear accounts of violence perpetrated against Navajo women and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer tribal members.
Redhouse, who is gay, said being homosexual on the reservation is not easy, especially when there is no support system from family or within the community. Developing that support system is one reason Redhouse said he returned to Shiprock.
"I think we need allies here, as well as policies and procedures," he said.
The commission will use information from Wednesday's testimony — as well as testimony collected at the previous hearings in Arizona's Window Rock and Tuba City — to write a report, said Commission Chairman Steven Darden.
The report, which may be released this year, could be used to support recommendations made to Navajo lawmakers to amend tribal laws, he said.
Commissioner Jennifer Denetdale informed the public that no data or statistics documenting violence against LGBTQ tribal members exist. And, she said, the tribe does not have any hate or anti-discrimination laws to protect these individuals.
Violence against women goes beyond physical abuse, Denetdale said. She said it ranges from questions about whether a Navajo woman can be elected tribal president to sexual harassment in tribal offices.
"We need to address this in order to move forward as a healthy nation," Denetdale said.
Evie Tsosie drove to the chapter house from her home in Dennehotso, Ariz., and was the first to address the commission.
She talked about harassment she faced while working for a coal company on the reservation. Tsosie said she remembers hearing her male coworkers make negative comments about women over the radio as she drove a water truck.
When Tsosie got into a disagreement with her immediate supervisor, he told her to "go home and make babies," she told the commission.
"If a woman spoke up, all these men would start talking. They put me down. I cried," she said, adding that despite filing complaints with the company and with tribal and federal offices, nothing was done.
Shiprock resident Sammy Ahkeah told the commission that he never got used to seeing the results of domestic violence while working for the Navajo Police Department. Ahkeah retired two years ago but recalled some of the abuse he saw during his service.
"When people do these crimes, they always go for the face. When an individual goes for the face, there is a lot of hatred," he said. "I've seen faces beyond recognition."
He recommended developing tribal laws that address violence against women, as well as requiring companies that do business on the reservation to conduct mandatory training on discriminating against women.
"Sorry to say, but our justice system has no teeth," Ahkeah said.
Testimony about the LGBTQ community was also collected.
Melvin Harrison, of Chinle, Ariz., said part of the problem is LGBTQ tribal members are often told to be silent, even if they are accepted by their communities.
"How do you talk about this when about 95 percent of our population on the Navajo Nation doesn't know how to talk about this?" he said.
Harrison works closely with the LGBTQ community, and, through the years, he has witnessed slow progress in accepting these tribal members. But, he said, one way the tribe can throw its full support behind its LGBTQ community is to repeal the Diné Marriage Act. The Navajo Nation Council enacted the act in June 2005. It bans same-sex marriage, polygamy and marriage between family members.
Harrison also encouraged continuing to educate the public about the LGBTQ community.Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 and email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @nsmithdt on Twitter.