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Chapter government officials sworn in during virtual inauguration ceremony

Noel Lyn Smith
Farmington Daily Times

UPPER FRUITLAND — Lisa Marie Byrd stood in front of the large screen inside the Upper Fruitland Chapter house to take the oath of office for the chapter's vice presidency.

On the screen was Navajo Nation Supreme Court Associate Justice Eleanor Shirley, who read the oath from Window Rock, Arizona, during the virtual inauguration for chapter governments on Jan. 6.

Because of the coronavirus pandemic, the Navajo Election Administration and the Navajo Board of Election Supervisors did not hold an in-person inauguration ceremony.

Rather, those elected on Nov. 3 for the offices of chapter president, vice president and secretary-treasurer and for alternative forms of government and memberships on grazing committees, farm boards, land boards, the election board and the Kayenta Township Commission were sworn in during ceremonies at 10 a.m. and at noon on the videoconference platform Zoom.

Lynelle Lee takes the oath of office for the Upper Fruitland Chapter presidency during the virtual Navajo Nation chapter government inauguration on Jan. 6 at the chapter house in Upper Fruitland.

At one point during the 10 a.m. event there were more than 300 participants on the dial-in number for Zoom, prompting the service to place some users in waiting rooms.

"We're probably the only ones ever that are going to be inaugurated during a pandemic," Byrd said. 

Access to the chapter house was limited to the elected officials – Byrd, along with incoming chapter President Lynelle Lee, Secretary-Treasurer Dora Smith, Grazing Official Roxanne R. Lee and Farm Board Member Albert Lee – who wore face masks and sat at tables placed several feet apart.

The certificate for the Upper Fruitland Chapter presidency is seen on Jan. 6 during the virtual Navajo Nation chapter government inauguration.

While the virtual swearing-in ceremony had some glitches, mostly reminders to participants to mute their phones, it proceeded without major disruption.

When Lee was sworn in as the chapter's secretary-treasurer in January 2017, the in-person ceremony was held at the Phil L. Thomas Performing Arts Center in Shiprock.

Lee, who ran unopposed for the chapter presidency, noted the stark contrast between 2017 and now.

"It's a lot more informal," she said about the event then added while the pomp and circumstance were missing, it was understandable given today's normalcy.

Throughout the inauguration, chapter officials from across the Navajo Nation listened to remarks from leaders in Window Rock.

Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez gives remarks during the virtual Navajo Nation chapter government inauguration on Jan. 6.

Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez talked about the impact the coronavirus pandemic has had on chapters and how community members look to local leaders for guidance.

He reminded officials that now is not the time for a political divide but a time to work together.

"You are here to comfort our Navajo people, to work very hard for our people so that we can persevere, and we can get through this pandemic in unity," Nez said.

Speaker Seth Damon commended the group for stepping up to serve their communities.

"I've always said that the Navajo Nation chapters are the frontlines, the most frontline of any organization on the Navajo Nation," Damon said before congratulating the new officials.

Lisa Marie Byrd takes the oath of office to serve as vice president for Upper Fruitland Chapter on Jan. 6 during the virtual Navajo Nation chapter government inauguration. In the background is Navajo Nation Supreme Court Associate Justice Eleanor Shirley who administered the oath from Window Rock, Arizona.

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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