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Navajo Nation Council confirms Tina Tsinigine to tribe's Supreme Court

Noel Lyn Smith
Farmington Daily Times
Tina Tsinigine, second from left, takes the oath of office for the Navajo Nation Supreme Court on Jan. 28 in Window Rock, Arizona. The Navajo Nation Council confirmed Tsinigine to the high court during the winter session.

FARMINGTON — The Navajo Nation Council confirmed Tina Tsinigine as an associate justice for the tribe's Supreme Court.

Tsinigine will serve alongside Chief Justice JoAnn Jayne and Associate Justice Eleanor Shirley, marking the first time three women will serve simultaneously on the three-member court.

It is an outcome that Delegate Mark Freeland noted before casting a vote in favor of Tsinigine's appointment.

"That is a testament for Navajo women. … Our women are strong," Freeland said.

The confirmation ends nearly a decade-long vacancy on the high court and Tsinigine will serve a probationary period of two years then undergo the process for permanent appointment.

The council considered the legislation for Tsinigine's appointment during the winter session on Jan. 28 in Window Rock, Arizona.

Tsinigine spoke to delegates about her career, which started as a mathematics instructor for the Tuba City Unified School District in Arizona before she earned a master's degree in Indigenous Nations Studies from the University of Kansas in 2003 followed by a Juris Doctor from the University of New Mexico School of Law in 2007.

From left, Navajo Nation Supreme Court Associate Justice Eleanor Shirley, Associate Justice Tina Tsinigine and Chief Justice JoAnn Jayne stand for photos after Tsinigine took the oath of office on Jan. 28 in Window Rock, Arizona.

After law school, she worked as an associate attorney for Navajo-Hopi Legal Services, a program under the Navajo Nation Department of Justice in Tuba City.

She became the staff attorney for the Tuba City Judicial District, one of 11 district courts under the Navajo Nation Judicial Branch, in August 2008.

She held that position until applying for appointment as a probationary district court judge in 2017. Members of the 23rd tribal council confirmed her service that year and she was assigned to the Kayenta Judicial District in Kayenta, Arizona.

In recent weeks, she was assigned to the Tuba City Judicial Court after the placement of Letitia Stover as the district court judge in Kayenta.

Tsinigine said while the bulk of her work as a judge was to preside and determine cases of various matters, she was called on to serve as a pro tem associate justice several times.

That experience, in addition to writing a few opinions during her pro tem service, convinced her to apply for the associate justice seat, she explained.

"I learned a lot as a district court judge," Tsinigine said.

Several delegates spoke favorably of Tsinigine in comments during the session, including ones commending her educational qualifications and her decision to return home to serve the Navajo people.

"I have confidence in you," Delegate Jimmy Yellowhair said.

Among the chapters Delegate Paul Begay represents is Coppermine in Arizona, which he noted is where Tsinigine has family roots.

"We must support our young people," Begay said. "When a person comes from your area, you feel a great pride."

After the bill passed in a vote of 22 in favor and zero opposed, Chief Justice Jayne administered the oath of office to Tsinigine inside the council chamber.

Afterward, Associate Justice Shirley stood alongside Tsinigine and Jayne for photographs.

Delegates Amber Kanazbah Crotty and Eugenia Charles-Newton, two of three female delegates on the 24-member council, were among those who posed for photos with the new associate justice.

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.

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