Navajo Nation Council to consider bill banning tobacco use in public spaces

Similar plans seeking smoke-free policies have gone to tribal lawmakers, but none have succeeded

Noel Lyn Smith
Farmington Daily Times
The Shiprock Chapter Veterans Organization was invited by the Navajo Nation Council to post the colors for the fall session. Because of COVID-19 restrictions, members were filmed on Oct. 14 and the video will show during the first day of the session.

GALLUP — The Navajo Nation Council will consider legislation to ban commercial tobacco product use in public and workplaces during the fall session, which starts on Monday, Oct. 18.

The "Nilch' éí Bee Ííná – Air is Life Act 2021" prohibits the behavior, including at the tribe's casinos, but does not restrict using tobacco products inside homes or the use of ceremonial tobacco.

Similar proposals calling for smoke-free policies – some as early as 2008 – have gone to tribal lawmakers but fell flat.

More:Health officials: Family gatherings contribute greatly to COVID-19 spread on Navajo Nation

In 2011, delegates failed to override then President Ben Shelly's veto of a measure that would have prohibited smoking and using chewing tobacco in public spaces except at the tribe's casinos.

The tribe in 2014 saw dozens of chapters approve resolutions that prohibited smoking in public and at workplaces located within the chapters' boundaries.

Shelly signed an executive order that same year that banned commercial tobacco inside buildings that are under the control of the executive branch.

A total of 10 bills are on the proposed agenda for the session, which starts at 10 a.m. on Oct. 18.

The Navajo Nation Council asked the Shiprock Chapter Veterans Organization to post the colors for the fall session. Members were filmed in Window Rock, Arizona on Oct. 14 and the video will show during the first day of the session.

Because of the coronavirus pandemic, the session will be held in hybrid format with delegates attending either by telephone or in-person at the council chamber in Window Rock, Arizona.

Another noteworthy bill requests a congressional hearing be held on the Navajo Nation in regard to uranium mining.

Beginning in the 1940s, the federal government extracted uranium from Navajo land to support efforts such as the Manhattan Project, the bill states.

Mining activities continued into the 1970s until mines were abandoned because the need for the toxic metal dropped.

The bill calls for the congressional hearing to examine the approval of uranium mining on the Navajo Nation, the long-term effects of mining activities and the remediation and reclamation of former mine sites.

"It is imperative for the United States Congress to focus and hear directly from the Navajo people on how uranium mining affects their lives," Delegate Kee Allen Begay Jr., the bill's sponsor, said in a news release.

Prior to the session, there will be a walk to raise awareness about domestic violence. 

The walk is open to the public and starts at 8 a.m. at the Navajo Nation Museum then proceed to the council chamber.

"Our women are powerful beings and our voices must be heard. This march is to break the silence of the victims and to uplift the voices of the survivors as we heal together. We ask for the Navajo people to wear purple on Monday and to walk with us to our capital," Delegate Amber Kanazbah Crotty said in a news release.

A separate walk at 9 a.m. from the museum to the council chamber will be conducted by the Diné Sáanii for Justice group.

The group marched in September to call attention to injustices women face on the tribal land and the reallocation of funding to the tribal prosecutor's office.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 or by email at

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