'You believed it was time for change': New Navajo Nation leaders sworn-in to office

President, vice president inaugurated in noon ceremony

Noel Lyn Smith
Farmington Daily Times

FORT DEFIANCE, Ariz. — Members of the Navajo Nation welcomed a new tribal president in an inaugural ceremony today at the Bee Hółdzil Fighting Scouts Events Center here.

Hundreds of tribal members watched as Jonathan Nez stood with his wife, Phefelia Herbert-Nez, and their two sons to take the oath of office at noon as administered by Navajo Nation Chief Justice JoAnn B. Jayne.

Nez later delivered an inaugural address, which he presented in the Navajo language and in English, that reflected on his journey of ascending to the president's office and developing his administration.

He spoke about the resilience of the Navajo people, as well as about learning life lessons at sheep camp, and following advice from others about pursuing an education and then returning home to improve the community.

The Bee Hółdzil Fighting Scouts Events Center in Fort Defiance, Ariz. was filled to near capacity during the inauguration on Tuesday.

Nez commended his supporters for remaining with him when a challenge was made to his candidacy and for believing in his campaign message.

"You believed it was time for change. Change could be a good word, but it could also be a scary word. I think the Navajo people (are) tired, tired of the same old rhetoric, tired of the same old work that is happening, not just here in Window Rock but across the Navajo Nation," Nez said.

He added the people do not need to fear the change his leadership is talking about, but embrace its opportunities, then move forward as a nation.

"Despite the many challenges we face, our people still have hope. They hope for a better tomorrow for all of us as Diné people," Nez said.

Jonathan Nez, left, takes the oath of office for the Navajo Nation presidency on Tuesday at the Bee Hółdzil Fighting Scouts Events Center in Fort Defiance, Ariz.

When the inaugural ceremony began, Nez and Herbert-Nez led the procession of elected officials.

Nez and Vice President Myron Lizer sat with their spouses on stage and were surrounded by members of the 24th Navajo Nation Council, the Navajo Board of Election Supervisors, the Navajo Nation Board of Education and the Kayenta Township Commissioners, who were also sworn in today.

Notably absent was outgoing President Russell Begaye, whose service concluded at 11:59 a.m. today.

Among those sitting in the audience was Charissa Benn, who traveled to the inauguration from Montezuma Creek, Utah.

"It's something different. New chances, especially for our young kids," Benn said.

She explained that she worked in education, and it is important for tribal leaders to advocate for education.

Navajo Nation Chief Justice JoAnn B. Jayne, left, talks to Navajo Nation Council delegate Amber Kanazbah Crotty, center, during Tuesday's inauguration at the Bee Hółdzil Fighting Scouts Events Center in Fort Defiance, Ariz. Crotty was sworn-in for a second term on the tribal council.

While holding a poster of Nez and Lizer, Benn said as a supporter of the two candidates, it was important for her to attend the inauguration.

In his welcome address, outgoing council Delegate Tom Chee reminded the incoming leaders that being elected is different from exercising leadership.

"It takes a different set of spurs to become a leader," Chee said.

Members of the new council were introduced one by one after the oath of office was administered by Chief Justice Jayne and Associate Justice Eleanor Shirley.

Rick Nez, who will represent six chapters in the Northern Agency on the tribal council, pointed toward the sky after his name was announced.

Eugenia Charles-Newton, the new council delegate for the Shiprock Chapter, waved to the crowd after hearing her name.

New Navajo Nation Council delegates Eugenia Charles-Newton, left, and Pernell Halona take a selfie before the start of the inaugural ceremony on Tuesday at the Bee Hółdzil Fighting Scouts Events Center in Fort Defiance, Ariz. Charles-Newton will represent Shiprock Chapter.

First lady Herbert-Nez, Vice President Lizer and his wife, Dottie Lizer, also delivered inaugural addresses. The inclusion of the first and second ladies represented a change in the event program from the way it has been conducted in the past.

Myron Lizer said as a small business owner, he wants his service to help Diné business owners and entrepreneurs who are creating economic development opportunities.

"I'm a strong advocate for buy Navajo," he said adding it is time for the Navajo people to change their mindset and support businesses in tribal communities.

Dottie Lizer said her family had never played a role in the realm of politics, but they accepted the calling to help the Navajo people.

"I believe that president — now I can say 'president,' not 'elect' — and vice president are capable of delivering that purpose," she said.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 or by email at nsmith@daily-times.com.