Seth Damon retains speaker seat for Navajo Nation Council

Noel Lyn Smith
Farmington Daily Times
Delegate Paul Begay gives the invocation during the Navajo Nation Council winter session on Jan. 25 in a screenshot from Facebook. The council is meeting in a hybrid format in Window Rock, Arizona.

FARMINGTON — Seth Damon officially started his second term as speaker of the Navajo Nation Council after delegates unanimously confirmed his reappointment on Jan. 25.

Damon, a two-term delegate representing the Bááháálí, Chichiltah, Manuelito, Rock Springs, Tsayatoh and Tsé Lichíí chapters, was sworn in shortly after the council passed the bill to confirm him in a vote of 22 in favor and zero opposed.

Chief Justice JoAnn Jayne administered the oath of office to Damon outside the council chamber in Window Rock, Arizona – which could be a first – as several delegates from the 24-member council watched nearby.

Damon did not make remarks after the swearing-in but commented after the confirmation vote.

"Ahéhee'. Thank you," he said.

More:Chapter government officials sworn in during virtual inauguration ceremony

The council started the process to select a speaker close to noon. The speaker leads the legislative branch for two years.

Damon was the sole nomination and was named by Delegate Eugenia Charles-Newton, who represents Shiprock Chapter.

At left, Delegate Seth Damon takes the oath of office for speaker of the Navajo Nation Council on Jan. 25. Chief Justice JoAnn Jayne, in blue jacket, administered the oath outside the council chamber in Window Rock, Arizona.

Charles-Newton explained that serving in such a capacity is not without challenges, but Damon has done his best to manage the branch especially during the coronavirus pandemic.

"During your service as speaker, you did stumble but you did it with humility," she said.

"As you may know, I was one of those critical delegates that did come to you often and ask, 'what are you doing?' But through it all, you kept us together. You kept us united," she added.

Delegate Rick Nez, who represents Nenahnezad, Newcomb, San Juan, Tiis Tsoh Sikaad, Tsé Daa K'aan and Upper Fruitland chapters, sponsored the confirmation bill.

"Who you select today will still be our colleague. We will still support that person whether that person is Republican or Democrat, liberal or conservative. We all need to be united," Nez said.

The Navajo Nation Council started the winter session on Jan. 25 in Window Rock, Arizona in a screenshot from Facebook. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the council is using a hybrid model to meet.

The session opened without much ceremony and under COVID-19 safety guidelines, including a hybrid format with delegates participating either in-person or by telephone away from the chamber.

The building remains closed to the public, but the branch worked with the tribe's Occupational Safety and Health Administration to develop and implement a safety plan, the Office of the Speaker stated in a Jan. 22 press release.

Under that plan, delegates and staff completed mandatory rapid testing for COVID-19 on Jan. 22. Temperature checks and health screen questionnaires are mandatory as well.

The livestream showed how the chamber was altered to protect participants, including plexiglass surrounding desks and yellow tape restricting access to areas. Delegates and staff were seen wearing face masks.

Under normal circumstances, the public seating area would be filled with tribal members and dignitaries, all of whom watch presentations and listen to reports from the tribal president and other officials.

This time, the Houck Veterans Association Color Guard posted the colors in a pre-recorded video and Miss Navajo Nation Shaandiin Parrish sang the national anthem over the telephone.

The session did not avoid any technical glitches. Connectivity trouble developed when a community member tried to give the invocation. Her participation was omitted, and Delegate Paul Begay said a prayer from the council floor.

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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