Bill proposes tribal holiday to honor leaders

Noel Lyn Smith
At right, former Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly speaks on May 12 during the inauguration ceremony for President Russell Begaye, second from right, at the Fighting Scouts Events Center in Fort Defiance, Ariz.

FARMINGTON — A Navajo Nation Council delegate is sponsoring a bill that would create a tribal holiday to celebrate the service of tribal chairmen and presidents.

Delegate Davis Filfred, who represents Aneth Chapter in Utah and Mexican Water, Red Mesa, Teec Nos Pos and Tólikan chapters in Arizona, is sponsoring the bill.

It proposes the holiday be celebrated on the third Friday in March.

“It would be appropriate for the Navajo people to set aside a day in March to commemorate and pay tribute to our past, present and future presidents of the Navajo Nation,” the bill states.

Joe Shirley Jr. thanks his supporters after losing the Navajo Nation special presidential election on April 21 at Nakai Hall in Window Rock, Ariz.

Attached to the bill is a resolution from the Navajo Housing Authority Board of Commissioners that supports enacting the holiday.

Ervin Chavez, chairman of the board, said on Monday that the idea for the holiday originated from a conversation the board had about the death of Leonard Haskie, who served as interim chairman and interim president from 1989 to 1990.

Chavez said the holiday would offer a way for tribal members to show "appreciation for those who served in that capacity," he said.

In December, NHA held its winter staff meeting and honored former Chairman Peter MacDonald and former Presidents Peterson Zah, Kelsey Begaye, Joe Shirley Jr. and Ben Shelly. They also honored former President Albert Hale, who was represented by his daughter, Sheena Hale.

From left, former Navajo Nation Chairman Peter MacDonald, former President Peterson Zah, Sheena Hale, who represented her father President Albert Hale, President Kelsey Begaye, President Joe Shirley Jr. and President Russell Begaye stand for a photo. The former leaders were honored during the Navajo Housing Authority winter staff meeting on Dec. 22 at the Twin Arrows Navajo Resort Casino near Flagstaff, Ariz.

There have been 24 elections and 18 individuals who have held the title of chairman or president since 1923, according to Filfred's bill.

The first tribal chairman was Henry Chee Dodge in 1923, and the first tribal president was Peterson Zah in 1991.

The tribe has 13 paid holidays, including Navajo Nation Sovereignty Day in April, Navajo Nation Memorial Day on June 1, Navajo Nation Code Talkers Day on Aug. 14 and Navajo Nation Family Day in November, according to the tribe's Department of Personal Management.

The bill is now available for consideration by tribal lawmakers.

It was assigned to the Health, Education and Human Services and Naa'bik'íyáti' committees and to the council, where final authority rests.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636.

Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye greets people on Nov. 9 during a live broadcast of "The Today Show" at the Four Corners Monument.