'Healing to normalcy': Spiritual leaders offer comfort in Navajo Nation Day of Prayer

Noel Lyn Smith
Farmington Daily Times
Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez reads a letter sent to the tribe from President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden during the day of prayer event on March 19 in Window Rock, Arizona.

WINDOW ROCK, Arizona — The prayer delivered by the Rev. Dr. John Nells reflected on the mental, emotional and spiritual toll on the Navajo people from the coronavirus pandemic.

But he also asked God to watch the Diné as the healing process continues.

"As we look forward to days of recovery, of healing to normalcy, we see the light at the end of the tunnel. Watch over us. Be with us," Nells said.

Nells, of Teesto, Arizona, was among faith leaders and traditional healers who spoke during the Navajo Nation Day of Prayer virtual event on March 19.

The event occurred two days after the tribe hit the one-year mark for the first case of COVID-19 reported on the tribal land.

Navajo Nation leaders ordered flags on the tribal land fly at half-staff on March 19 to honor individuals who died of COVID-19. Flags of the United States and the Navajo Nation were lowered in front of the president's office in Window Rock, Arizona.

Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez signed a proclamation declaring the day. It also directed flags across the reservation to be flown at half-staff in honor and remembrance of those who died of the virus.

In a year that brought closures, restrictions, adaptation and grief, the spiritual leaders offered comfort to tribal members in prayers and messages of hope and healing.

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Avery Denny, a member of the Diné Hataalii Association, prayed in the Navajo language from his hogan in the area of Round Rock and Lukachukai in Arizona.

"A lot of the things that is being said is good – nizhóní. Healing, moving forward and helping our nation to rebuild, reconstruct and what is necessary as a Navajo individual," Avery said in English.

Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez signs a proclamation in Window Rock, Arizona to recognize March 19 as "Navajo Nation Day of Prayer" in honor and in memory of lives lost to COVID-19.

In Window Rock, President Nez and Vice President Myron Lizer spoke from Veterans Memorial Park.

The park served as the location for a somber ceremony on March 17 to remember 1,222 Navajo people who died of COVID-19 as of that date.

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"The proclamation that we read today, may it help heal, may help unify our nation into moving forward," Nez said.

He also read a letter sent to the tribe from President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden that reflected on the toll the pandemic has taken on tribal communities and recognized the resilience of Native people.

Navajo Nation Vice President Myron Lizer talks about faith and belief during the day of prayer event on March 19 in Window Rock, Arizona.

"The coronavirus has denied us so many of the rituals that help us cope and honor those we loved. It has taken away elders and tribal leaders who were not only parents and grandparents, but caretakers and guardians of culture – and deprived them and their communities of so much: final traditions of sacred cultures on sacred lands, final rites and proper homegoings with family members sharing stories and love with one another," the letter stated.

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"It will take all of us, in partnership with tribal nations, to overcome this time of loss and build back our communities even stronger," it added.

Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland acknowledged the pandemic's impact on the Navajo Nation in remarks livestreamed from her office in Washington, D.C.

First lady Phefelia Nez, right, stands with Miss Navajo Nation Shaandiin Parrish, center, and Perphelia Fowler, director of the tribe's Division of Human Resources, on March 19 during the Navajo Nation Day of Prayer event in Window Rock, Arizona.

"I want you to know that the nation is grieving the loss of every single person on the Navajo Nation during this pandemic and we're praying for comfort and strength for their families, for all of your families and all of your communities," Haaland said.

She added the Interior Department and other federal agencies are working to deliver COVID-19 vaccines and $31 billion to Indian Country as part of the American Rescue Plan.

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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