SHIPROCK — Next week the Rev. Shirley Montoya will join four other Navajo women and start service on the Navajo Women's Commission.

The five-member commission was established in 1985 and among its purposes is to support women in developing their skills, continuing their educations and retaining leadership roles.

Commissioners also assist in setting government policies related to Navajo women, men and families and report to the tribal president about the social status of women and families.

"I see it as a place to voice, to bring issues that are facing our sisters today, because my belief is that the family unit is very important," Montoya said in an interview Monday at the Healing Circle Drop-In Center, where she is the project manager.

Montoya said she always had an interest in working with women and promoting their status in the community.

That interest resulted in, "Sisters in Circle," a support group she founded in 2009 that offers a place for women to share their experiences and struggles of balancing everyday life.

The group hosts an annual "celebration of women" with workshops, keynote speakers and entertainment.

Montoya was invited to serve on the commission by Navajo Nation First Lady Martha Shelly and the Office of the First Lady.

"I'm honored," Montoya said then recalled that she was informed of the selection during a visit to the center by Shelly and Phil Kinlichee, who serves as the Northern Agency liaison in the Office of Navajo Nation President and Vice President.

"I thought, 'Wow!'" she said. "Then later, people were asking me, 'What do they (commissioners) do? What are they suppose to do?' I said, 'I think there is a lot they can do.'"

The commission's first meeting is July 11 in Window Rock, Ariz.

Montoya is looking forward to talking about ideas and initiatives with fellow commissioners and learning about the work completed by the previous members.

She looks forward to learning more about the legislative process and how to amend tribal law, policies and procedures that address and impact women's issues.

Montoya has some experience navigating the process through her service with the community group that proposed a 2-percent sales tax on junk food sold on the reservation.

Montoya is Oozei' Táchii'nii (Red Running Into the Water People-related to the Hopi), born for Tódích'íi'nii (Bitter Water). Her maternal grandfather clan is Naakai dine'é (Mexican Clan) and her paternal grandfather clan is Ta'neeszahnii (Tangle Clan).

She was born and raised in Shiprock and graduated from Kirtland Central High School.

In 1988, she earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in sociology from Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colo. In 1992, she earned a Master of Divinity degree in theology from Iliff School of Theology in Denver, Colo.

She is an ordained minister in the United Methodist Church and retired in 2006.

Part of her reason for retiring and returning home, which she did in 2007, was to work with the Navajo people.

Although Montoya is ordained, she does believe in the Navajo traditional way.

"I don't find any conflict between the Christian way and the Navajo person that I am," she said.

From her grandmother, she learned the importance of using cedar to pray and her father was Christian and believed in prayer.

Montoya started attending church because it provided a support system while she sought a sense of being. In the midst of that, she felt the creator calling her and telling her to follow the teachings, she said.

Also confirmed to the commission were Sharon Jackson, of Church Rock, to represent the Eastern Agency; Vivian Arviso, of Tohatchi, to represent the Fort Defiance Agency; Lolita Paddock, of Cameron, Ariz., to represent the Western Agency; and Charlotte Begay, of Many Farms, Ariz., to represent the Chinle Agency.

The nominations were listed in a single piece of legislation, which was approved by the Naa'bik'íyáti' Committee in a vote of 12 in favor and zero opposed on June 13.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636. nsmith@daily-times.com Follow her @nsmithdt on Twitter.