Navajo Nation Council wraps up winter session

Noel Lyn Smith

FARMINGTON — The Navajo Nation Council has tabled a measure that would have changed the tribe's name to the Diné Nation.

Navajo Nation Council Delegate Amber Kanazbah Crotty listens to comments about a bill she sponsored at the winter session on Tuesday in Window Rock, Ariz.

The bill was among 22 others that tribal lawmakers considered during the winter session that ended on Thursday in Window Rock, Ariz.

Delegate Jonathan Hale sponsored the bill calling for the name change and presented it to the council the final day of the session.

In comments to the council, Hale said the legislation opens the door for discussion about how the Navajo people identify themselves. He added it was up to the council to use its discretion in determining the bill's outcome.

During the two-hour debate over Hale's bill, a number of delegates questioned its purpose, as well as potential benefits. They also raised concerts about the costs associated with the proposed change.

Delegate Herman Daniels Jr. suggested a referendum election be conducted in order for the Navajo people to weigh in on the matter.

Delegate Nathaniel Brown spoke in support of the bill and said "Navajo" was not the name bestowed by the Holy People but rather a term applied by the federal government.

"We should not consider ourselves as second-class citizens by a name the Holy People did not give us," Brown said.

After hearing comments, the council voted to table the bill until the spring session in April.

Delegates did pass legislation to extend the timeline to place a referendum before tribal voters, asking them to approve a transportation stimulus plan.

The Navajo Election Administration had scheduled a special election for the referendum on Jan. 24 but cancelled it on Jan. 23 due to insufficient funding. The referendum would have asked voters whether to use approximately $216 million from the principle of the Permanent Trust Fund to improve roads throughout the reservation.

Delegates also voted to table a bill that would have provided $248,000 in supplemental funding from the Unreserved Undesignated Fund Balance to the election administration to conduct the referendum.

Among the bills the council did not pass was a measure sponsored by Delegate Amber Kanazbah Crotty. Her bill would have prohibited the scheduling of additional committee and commission meetings when the council is in session or when the Naa'bik'íyáti' Committee meets.

It also proposed prohibiting delegates from collecting stipends or reimbursements if they attend chapter government meetings during a council session or Naa'bik'íyáti' Committee meetings.

Crotty sponsored another bill to amend the plan of operation for the Diné Uranium Remediation Advisory Commission.

When the bill was under discussion by the council, Delegate Leonard Tsosie raised concerns about how money is being used from a $1 billion settlement in 2014 involving Kerr-McGee, a company that operated numerous uranium mines and processing sites on the reservation in the 1950s and 1960s.

Tsosie asked if the settlement is being used only to clean up activities in Shiprock because there are chapters in the Eastern Agency affected by uranium mining.

Delegate Edmund Yazzie was among those who called for supporting the commission by amending its plan of operation.

The council also confirmed the appointment of Rodgerick T. Begay as the deputy attorney general and the permanent appointment of Cynthia Thompson as a district court judge for the tribe.

The appointment of Philmer Bluehouse to serve on the Commission on Navajo Government Development was confirmed, as was the appointment of Herbert Clah Jr. to a four-year term on the board of directors for the Navajo Nation Gaming Enterprise.

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