New Navajo Nation president, vice president take oath of office

Noel Lyn Smith
The Daily Times

FORT DEFIANCE, ARIZ. — The relationship between tradition and contemporary living was demonstrated by the incoming presidential administration during the Navajo Nation inauguration ceremony here Tuesday.

In his inaugural address inside the Fighting Scouts Events Center, Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye called for restoring the Navajo language to its rightful place among the Diné.

The days of being ashamed of speaking the language are gone, he said. It is time to move beyond those feelings and embrace the power of the language because it is part of the foundation of the people, he added.

Begaye said the time has come for the tribe to end its dependence on the outside world and to examine the opportunities it possesses inside the four sacred mountains, whether it be a return to agriculture, building strong economic development or encouraging professional Navajos to return home.

"It is time we bring them back," he said.

Not only do the people need to come together, so do the tribal leaders from all levels of the government, he added.

"We never come together like we should," Begaye said.

Begaye also took time to reflect on the course he took to reach the presidential office, a dream he said he never visualized when he entered tribal politics.

"It is a gift from the people. The people honor you with it," Begaye said about being elected president.

In his inaugural address, Vice President Jonathan Nez said Tuesday's ceremony celebrated the possibilities and the vision of hope for the new administration.

"Let it be known that our new dawn encompasses all of us, regardless of where we live," he said.

Nez, of Shonto Chapter in Arizona, added that the Navajo Nation must develop an environment to sustain Diné rights, whether they pertain to the land, water or healthy foods.

"We are capable of creating a new reality … and the call starts right now," Nez said.

During the welcome address, Navajo Nation Council Speaker LoRenzo Bates said the incoming leadership was selected through the democratic process — and no one would argue it was a lengthy process to reach the point of swearing in a new president.

"It is during these times of uncertainty we are reminded of how resilient the Navajo people are," Bates said, adding the voice of the Navajo people cannot be "drowned."

"I want you to all feel inspired about the new leadership coming on board," Bates said.

He thanked Begaye and Nez for answering the call of public service. He said the council looks forward to working with them.

Solemn as it was, Tuesday's ceremony wasn't without levity.

"Ah, 45 more minutes," outgoing Navajo President Ben Shelly said when he stepped to the podium, drawing laughter from the audience.

Shelly said he spent time talking to Begaye about the transition of power and continuing the projects started under his administration.

"Because we need to continue working hand in hand," Shelly said.

After concluding his comments, Shelly presented a dark brown Pendleton blanket to Begaye.

Outgoing Vice President Rex Lee Jim made a similar blanket presentation to Nez and asked that he continue the leadership, offering his successor some advice.

"Always be grateful to your staff, appreciate them," Jim said.

Both men had the blankets draped over their left shoulder when they received a Navajo blessing from Jim and when minister William Lee conducted a Christian prayer.

At noon, Navajo Nation Supreme Court Chief Justice Herb Yazzie administered the oath of office to Begaye, who stood next to his daughter, Karis Begaye, as she held the Bible.

"Awakening of a new dawn," a woman wearing a top hat featuring a Begaye campaign button said immediately after Begaye was introduced as the new president.

Yazzie also administered the oath of office to Nez, whose wife, Phefelia Herbert, held the Bible.

Shiprock resident Sammy Ahkeah was sworn in as a member of the Navajo Board of Election Supervisors by Associate Justice Eleanor Shirley.

Prior to the ceremony, Begaye and Nez posed for photographs with members of the public.

"The people are excited, and that makes us excited about everything that's going to take place," Begaye said in an interview before the start of the event.

He added that the Navajo Nation is ready to start a new chapter.

"They're expecting something different, and they are expecting us to move the nation forward," he said.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 and Follow her @nsmithdt on Twitter.