Navajo Nation Council to convene in special session

Noel Lyn Smith The Daily Times
The Daily Times

FARMINGTON — Tribal lawmakers this week could override Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly's veto of a bill that would have amended the Navajo language fluency requirement for individuals seeking elected tribal offices.

Last month, Shelly vetoed the legislation, arguing that the Navajo people should be consulted about the fluency issue and that it appeared the bill was only intended to help disqualified presidential candidate Chris Deschene.

Deschene was disqualified last month by a default judgment after he declined to answer questions asked of him in Navajo to determine his fluency during a hearing by the Navajo Office of Hearings and Appeals.

Delegate Leonard Tsosie is sponsoring the override legislation, and it received a "do pass" recommendation by a vote of 12-5 by the Naa'bik'íyáti' Committee on Wednesday.

The special session, which starts today and concludes Friday in Window Rock, Ariz., was called to address legislation that was not considered during the fall session.

Delegate Russell Begaye is sponsoring two bills that would set lifetime term limits for the presidency at two terms, or eight years, and for delegates at four terms, or 16 years.

Navajo lawmakers also could authorize the purchase of approximately 67 acres of land in San Juan County.

The land is located at the junction of N.M. Highway 371 and Navajo Route 36, and is less than a mile east of the Northern Edge Navajo Casino.

If the bill is approved by the council and signed by Shelly, the property could be used for commercial development by the Navajo Nation Gaming Enterprise, Upper Fruitland Chapter and the tribe's Division of Economic Development.

The council also is being asked to approve the purchase of 160 acres of land in the Ramah Chapter in New Mexico.

Earlier in the year, the council approved amending the Veterans Trust Fund to pay for new housing construction for veterans living on tribal lands.

Delegate Edmund Yazzie is sponsoring a bill that proposes that the new housing construction include veterans living off the reservation.

Delegate Danny Simpson is sponsoring legislation to have the council support a U.S. House of Representatives bill that would determine how the land housing the Fort Wingate Deport, near Gallup, would be divided between the Navajo tribe and Zuni Pueblo.

Simpson is also sponsoring legislation to provide $541,946 to the council's legislative district assistants program.

In September, Shelly used his line-item veto to eliminate the program's funding, which was used to employ one assistant for each delegate.

Delegates could approve amendments to the sentencing provisions for the tribe's criminal code, as well as enact the Healthy Diné Nation Act of 2014 and approve a requirement that 16 or more votes from the council be required in order to enact any new tribal tax.

Delegate Charles Damon II is sponsoring legislation to request $1 million in supplemental funding from the Unreserved Undesignated Fund Balance for the Office of the Speaker to purchase eyeglasses for Navajo young people enrolled in Head Start to 12th grade and Navajos who are 55 and older.

Another bill requests $286,247 in supplemental funding from the UUFB for the Navajo Election Administration to fund this year's general election and associated costs.

A third bill requests $148,325 in supplemental funding from the UUFB for the Phoenix Indian Center for Navajo language and cultural classes for Navajo who live in Maricopa County in Arizona.

The council also could approve legislation to appoint 10 delegates as shareholder representatives to the Navajo Nation Oil and Gas Company.

The shareholder representatives would be two members from each of the council's five standing committees.

The council also could confirm Tommy Lewis Jr. as the superintendent of the Department of Diné Education and could reappoint attorney Martin Avery as the Judicial Branch representative on the Commission on Navajo Government Development.

Changing the name of the Navajo Mountain Chapter to the Naatsisaan Chapter is also on the agenda.

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