Bates continues as Navajo Nation Council speaker

Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye and Vice President Jonathan Nez deliver State of the Nation address

Noel Lyn Smith,
LoRenzo Bates, left, takes the oath of office for speaker of the Navajo Nation Council during the winter session on Monday in Window Rock, Ariz. Acting Chief Justice Allen Sloan, right, administered the oath.

WINDOW ROCK, Ariz. — Speaker LoRenzo Bates will continue his service as leader of the Navajo Nation Council.

Bates was elected to serve his second term as speaker during the winter session today at the Department of Diné Education auditorium in Window Rock, Ariz.

Delegate Otto Tso was also nominated for speaker, as was Delegate Kee Allen Begay, who declined the nomination.

Delegates cast 22 ballots, and Bates received 16 votes while Tso received six.

Delegates Amber Kanazbah Crotty and Benjamin Bennett were absent from the session when the bill was under consideration and did not cast ballots.

Bates, who represents Nenahnezad, Newcomb, San Juan, Tiis Tsoh Sikaad, Tsé Daa K'aan and Upper Fruitland chapters, and Tso, who represents the Tó Nanees Dizí Chapter in Arizona, each had 15 minutes to present a platform to the council.

Navajo Nation Council Delegate Otto Tso, who represents Tó Nanees Dizí Chapter in Arizona, was a candidate for speaker. Tso shared his platform during the winter session on Monday in Window Rock, Ariz.

The incumbent went first and thanked the council for allowing him to serve as speaker for the first two years of the current term.

Bates also said it is vital for the tribe to develop a relationship with President Donald Trump's administration.

"With President Donald Trump’s administration taking office, it is incumbent on the Navajo Nation to set strong intergovernmental relations with the new administration," Bates said.

He said the line of communication opened last month when he and several delegates met with officials from the new administration in Washington, D.C.

The speaker's office is also moving forward in scheduling meetings with the U.S. Departments of the Interior, Housing and Urban Development, Education and Health and Human Services.

Bates' platform also focused on economic development, road infrastructure, water settlements, domestic violence, international issues that impact the tribe and the Arizona gaming compact. He also said the tribe needs to continue strengthening its partnerships and relationships with state officials.

"Never before has the Navajo Nation Council established such a strong partnership with our state leaders, and this is a path that we must continue down," he said.

Tso addressed the council in the Navajo language and used his platform to highlight the traditional lessons and values he uses and brings to his position as a first-term delegate.

He added that change has to be across the board. Speaking in Navajo, he said the people who voted for the delegates expect them to lead.

After the presentations, staff from the Navajo Election Administration oversaw the voting process as delegates cast ballots one by one.

Shortly after the council approved the bill to appoint the speaker to a two-year term, acting Chief Justice Allen Sloan administered the oath of office to Bates.

"I do thank the support of this council," Bates said after taking the oath.

Navajo Nation Council Delegate Peterson B. Yazzie, whose representation includes Naschitti Chapter, casts his ballot to name a speaker at the winter session on Monday in Window Rock, Ariz.

After a recess for lunch, the session continued with Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye and Vice President Jonathan Nez giving the State of the Nation address.

Among the issues Begaye mentioned was a recent internal audit for a housing program operated by the former Department of Navajo Veterans Affairs.

The president said the audit revealed deficiencies, including occupancy of eight out of 23 built houses and homes constructed for ineligible individuals. Begaye said adjustments will be made through a corrective action plan.

Navajo Nation Vice President Jonathan Nez, center, presents his part of the State of the Nation address during the winter session on Monday in Window Rock, Ariz.

During the council's response to the president's report, Delegate Jonathan Perry reminded Begaye that the council will consider a bill to amend the plan of operation for the Diné Uranium Remediation Advisory Commission.

Perry encouraged the president to inform the public about the changes, if it is approved by the council, and urged Begaye to share the tribe's stance against uranium mining with the Trump administration.

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