First lady Jill Biden starts two-day visit to Navajo Nation

Noel Lyn Smith
Farmington Daily Times

WINDOW ROCK, Arizona — First lady Jill Biden said her two-day visit to the Navajo Nation will help further the Biden administration's understanding of Indian Country and promote dialogue between federal and tribal officials.

Biden told this to Navajo leaders during an event to welcome her to the tribal land on April 22.

Her speech highlighted the work she said the Biden administration has done to help Indian Country since taking office in January, including the recent relaunch of the White House Council on Native American Affairs, which will "guide our work across the administration."

She added that the American Rescue Plan will invest billions to help tribes continue to combat COVID-19 and stabilize "safety net" programs.

Under the proposed American Jobs Plan, funding for "badly needed" infrastructure will boost projects such as water and broadband on Native lands, she said.

"This plan will provide good paying jobs, including right here in the Navajo Nation," she said.

She added that under the leadership of Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland, who is a member of Laguna Pueblo, the U.S. Department of the Interior will be the steward of America's public lands "with a renewed commitment to our tribal trust and treaty responsibilities."

Biden also introduced recently named Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary - Indian Affairs Bryan Newland.

"Tribes will always have a voice in our administration and we're committed to honoring tribal sovereignty and strengthening our nation-to-nation relationship," Biden said.

Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez mentioned that the first lady saw the copy of the Treaty of 1868 at the Navajo Nation Museum.

"That establishes this nation-to-nation dialogue," Nez said about the treaty between the Navajo Nation and the United States government.

He added his administration looks forward to working with the Biden-Harris administration to assist the Navajo people, to build brighter futures and to invest in infrastructure.

First lady Jill Biden claps after a member of the Navajo Nation Council is introduced during the event to welcome her to the Navajo Nation on April 22, 2021, in Window Rock.

In terms of the coronavirus pandemic, Biden mentioned the Navajo Nation having the highest infection rate per capita in the United States last May, resulting in more than 1,000 deaths.

"We feel their loss deeply every day," she said.

By working with the Indian Health Service, the Navajo Nation adapted to bring down new COVID-19 infections, she said.

"The Navajo Nation is a leading example of the COVID response in the United States," she said.

After arriving in Window Rock, Biden joined several female Navajo leaders for a round table discussion at the Navajo Nation Museum.

"I just met with a group of women, who I now call my sister warriors," Biden said.

First lady Jill Biden talked about prior visits to the Navajo Nation and the strength of the Navajo people in her remarks on April 22, 2021, in Window Rock.

Although she did not elaborate on what they talked about, Speaker Seth Damon said in his remarks that Delegate Amber Kanazbah Crotty advocated for reauthorization the Violence Against Women Act.

This is Biden's third visit to the Navajo Nation. She previously visited when she was second lady and gave the commencement speech in 2013 at Navajo Technical University in Crownpoint.

Her second trip was in 2019 to open the first cancer treatment center on the tribal land in Tuba City, Arizona.

"The reason why I think that you really keep coming back to the nation, is because you want to learn more from our Navajo people and you want to take that back to the White House," Damon said.

Temperatures cooled as the evening progressed and Biden sat with a tan Pendleton blanket wrapped around her to keep warm.

Damon explained the Pendleton was a gift from the 24th Navajo Nation Council and was given to her with the intent of protecting her as she travels.

"I want to say, from the blessing that you have been given to the blessing that you received, please spread those blessings everywhere that you go," Damon said.

Navajo President Jonathan Nez, first lady Jill Biden and Navajo first lady Phefelia Nez pose for a photo at Window Rock Navajo Tribal Park and Veterans Memorial. Biden visited the Navajo Nation in Window Rock on April 22, 2021.

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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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