Navajo Nation welcomes new leaders for tribal council and other elected offices

Noel Lyn Smith The Daily Times
The Daily Times

WINDOW ROCK, ARIZ. — When the time arrived to select a pro tem speaker for the freshly minted 23rd Navajo Nation Council Tuesday, the issue was decided by a coin toss.

Delegates LoRenzo Bates and Kee Allen Begay Jr. were nominated to serve as pro tem speaker until the council selects a speaker during the winter session, which starts on Monday, Jan. 26.

But after secret ballots were counted, the results showed 12 votes for Bates and 12 votes for Begay.

The council followed the advice from the Office of Legislative Counsel, which cited the tribe's election code that ties are to be broken by a coin toss.

With that, Bertha Aguirre, who represents the Fort Defiance Agency on the Navajo Board of Election Supervisors, flipped a coin after stating that heads would represent Bates and tails would represent Begay.

"Tails," Aguirre said, examining the coin.

Begay will serve as pro tem speaker under limited power and authority until the winter session.

Bates served as pro tem speaker under the 22nd council after former Speaker Johnny Naize was put on paid administrative leave in April. Naize eventually resigned in late September.

Begay worked as a legislative district assistant for Naize and was a delegate in the 21st council.

Earlier in the day, the new council delegates took the oath of office during the inauguration ceremony in the Fighting Scouts Events Center in Fort Defiance, Ariz.

Jennifer Nez Denetdale, an associate professor of American Studies at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, gave an inaugural address filled with history, hope and reflection.

"We ask our leaders to act in the best interest of the Navajo Nation government," she said.

She also took time to comment about the current "crisis" facing the tribal government in terms of electing a new tribal president, which is still pending.

"Do we have the right to choose our leaders with our votes?" Denetdale said.

Avery Denny, who is a traditional Diné healer and chanter, sang a song that asked for protection and guidance for the incoming leaders.

Praying in the Navajo language, he asked the officials to move forward with positive thinking, to use Diné Fundamental Laws, and to "bring back good thinking, thoughts, planning and positive life."

"Each of us has been given honor — an honor bestowed upon by our people," Bates said in his welcome address.

He also called on family members to provide support and guidance to the delegates and members of the election and education boards.

At noon, the 24 members of the council collectively took their oath of office as administered by Dzil Yijiin District Court Judge Victoria R. Yazzie.

Four members of the election board and five members of the Navajo Board of Education also were sworn into office.

In a separate ceremony, Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly and Vice President Rex Lee Jim took the oath of office in the state room of the Office of the President and Vice President in Window Rock, Ariz.

The oath of office was administered by Navajo Nation Supreme Court Chief Justice Herb Yazzie.

Last week, Shelly and the council reached an agreement to continue his presidential service.

A new motion was filed in the Supreme Court on Monday, asking that certain tribal officials be held in contempt for not following an earlier court order to hold the presidential special election by the end of January.

It also seeks to nullify two resolutions that Shelly signed into law on Saturday that set a new presidential election, and pardons and reinstates the Navajo Board of Election Supervisors.

The latest motion was filed at 4:42 p.m. on Monday in the Navajo Nation Supreme Court by attorneys for former presidential candidates Dale E. Tsosie and Hank Whitethorne.

The motion asks for the high court to reaffirm its December order to the Navajo Election Administration to conduct the presidential special election by Jan. 31.

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.