Executive order focuses on sexual harassment

Noel Lyn Smith

FARMINGTON — A Navajo Nation Council delegate who placed a spotlight on sexual harassment in the tribal workplace said recent action by two tribal leaders to beef up education efforts on the issue is "a call to action."

Navajo Nation Council Delegate Amber Kanazbah Crotty says she is grateful for the recent action by two tribal leaders to address sexual harassment in the workplace.

Last month, Delegate Amber Kanazbah Crotty disclosed her own experiences of being sexually harassed while serving on the 24-member council and when she served as a legislative district assistant. Her comments included a demand to address the situation.

Nearly two weeks after Crotty's appeal, the heads of two tribal branches have ordered a review of current policy that addresses sexual harassment and mandated training for employees within the executive and judicial branches.

Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye and acting Chief Justice Allen Sloan signed an executive order on Monday that directs divisions, departments and chapter houses to distribute the section on sexual harassment from the Navajo Nation Personnel Policies Manual.

But Mihio Manus, spokesman for the tribe's Office of the President and Vice President, said in an email on Wednesday the executive order was not a response to Crotty's comments.

"We wanted to assess the policy we have in place. We do address sexual harassment when (we) hire new employees and through voluntary classes," Manus said.

The executive branch has approximately 6,000 employees, and each one will undergo mandatory classes and training, he said.

Judicial branch spokeswoman Karen Francis said in an email the branch has a separate personnel policy that includes providing employees training on sexual harassment. Francis said the last training for all employees was done in November.

Jared Touchin, spokesman for the Office of the Speaker, said in an email the legislative branch was not included in the executive order, and it does not apply to the branch. The legislative branch will continue to follow the policies outlined in the tribe's personnel policies manual, Touchin said. He added the Speaker’s Office is working to implement similar training about sexual harassment for branch employees.

The tribe's personnel policies manual includes a definition of sexual harassment and the process to report a complaint. An employee can file a written complaint with his or her immediate supervisor or at the department level, the manual states.

Any allegation of sexual harassment brought to the attention of the tribe is investigated, but the manual does not explain where a complaint can be filed if the employee is unsatisfied with a supervisor’s decision or if the harassment continues.

Richie Nez, chief hearing officer at the tribe’s Office of Hearings and Appeals, said the office handles sexual harassment complaints if all avenues to address the issue are exhausted at the administrative level.

Although training about sexual harassment was not mandatory, for years, the tribe's Staff Development and Training Department in Window Rock, Ariz., offered a four-hour class about the issue. But the session had to be requested by division and department officials.

Training Manager Leila Help-Tulley said now that the executive order is in place, the next step is working with the Division of Human Resources to implement the order and to secure funding to cover the training.

"We are collaborating right now in how to move that forward," Help-Tulley said.

Crotty, who represents seven Northern Agency chapters, said in a telephone interview she is grateful for the "swift" action by Begaye and Sloan to address sexual harassment, which she said remains accepted behavior in work environments.

"Nobody should be subjected to this type of behavior," Crotty said.

She said she was researching the issue before making her comments at the council session. Since sharing her story, she said she has heard similar stories and feedback from employees in tribal government, tribal enterprises, private businesses, school districts and federal agencies.

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