Navajo Nation, Acoma Pueblo leaders to attend State of the Union address

Noel Lyn Smith
Farmington Daily Times
Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez and Vice President Myron Lizer will attend the State of the Union address on Tuesday night in Washington, D.C.

FARMINGTON — Tribal leaders from the Southwest will be among the guests selected by congressional members to attend the State of the Union address tonight.

Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez will attend as Sen. Tom Udall's guest, Vice President Myron Lizer is the guest for Rep. Tom O'Halleran, D-Ariz., and Sen. Martin Heinrich invited former Pueblo of Acoma Gov. Kurt Riley.

"We will be listening in and taking our notes and see where some of the priorities align with the Navajo Nation's priorities," Nez said in a telephone interview from Washington, D.C. today.

President Donald Trump will deliver his State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress in the House of Representatives at 7 p.m. MST. on Tuesday.

Udall explained in a press release today his reason for selecting Nez to attend the event.

"As the leader of the Navajo Nation, representing over 300,000 tribal citizens on the largest reservation spanning four states, President Nez is a key partner in our shared work to expand opportunity across Indian Country, protect tribal sovereignty and promote tribal self-determination and self-governance," Udall said.

He added Nez brings stories about how the federal shutdown violated trust and treaty obligations by disrupting services to tribes.

Nez talked with Udall last month about the impact the 35-day shutdown had on health care, public safety and social services to tribal communities.

By attending tonight's event, Nez sends a message to the Trump administration about the importance of federal responsibilities to tribes and pueblos in New Mexico and across the country, Udall said.

While Nez hopes Trump remarks about Indian Country, he understands border security and the effects of the shutdown will be the focus.

Nez said the Navajo Nation continues to support the Tohono O'odham Nation in opposing construction of a wall through the tribe's land along the U.S.-Mexico border in southern Arizona.

"I don't think it's a great fit for America. Especially if the country prides itself on immigrants coming to the U.S. to make us a strong nation, including our tribal communities," Nez said.

Lizer was surprised by O'Halleran's invitation to attend the address.

The vice president said he will pause to take in the grandeur before turning his attention to Trump's remarks.

"Economic development, business development and small business are the key catchphrases for me," Lizer said.

Riley, who completed a third term as the Acoma Pueblo governor on Dec. 29, said in a release he was honored to be invited by Heinrich.

He said tribes and pueblos continue to cope with the consequences of the shutdown, including no funding for health care, transportation and law enforcement.

"This put tribal governments under great duress to deliver for our communities. It is critical that President Trump not use another shutdown as political leverage, but rather work towards repairing the damage caused by this shutdown and ensure that our families and communities are made whole," Riley said.

Nez said he hopes the presence of tribal leaders reminds federal lawmakers about the responsibilities to Indian Country.

"It'll be a reminder of promises that were said by previous elected officials, all the way back to the negotiation of our treaties and to highlight, recognize the nation-to-nation relationship we have," he said.

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