Navajo Nation leaders sign agreement to set priorities for tribe

Noel Lyn Smith The Daily Times
The Daily Times

WINDOW ROCK, ARIZ. — In an unprecedented move, leaders of the Navajo Nation's three branches of government signed an agreement on Monday outlining a commitment to improving the quality of life and economic opportunities for Navajo people.

Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye, Speaker LoRenzo Bates and acting Chief Justice Eleanor Shirley signed the document at the start of the council's summer session in Window Rock, Ariz.

The three-page agreement lists nine priority areas the leaders plan to address during their terms in office. They include infrastructure development and improvements, economy, water rights, housing and public facility, education, human services, governance, public safety and judicial, and natural resources.

"Through this three branch agreement, the leadership of the Navajo Nation will embark on an effort to improve the Navajo Nation laws, policies and processes to better meet the needs of the Navajo people," the agreement states.

The agreement was the result of a series of meetings between the tribal leadership and council delegates.

Vice President Jonathan Nez also signed the agreement, writing his signature below the president's.

Since taking office on May 12, Begaye and Nez have worked side-by-side, and that collaboration continued when they delivered the State of the Nation address together to the council.

The bulk of it focused on the selection of the attorney general, division directors, office directors and commission directors. The president highlighted the educational backgrounds and experience of each appointee.

"We are proud, and you should be, too," Begaye said about the division directors, who were educated at universities such as Harvard and Georgetown and have worked at the federal level.

In the written report, Begaye highlighted the fund for the $554 million trust mismanagement settlement and mentioned creating a position within the executive office to track external funds the tribe receives.

The report also noted the creation of a veterans liaison to work with the Department of Navajo Veterans Affairs and urged the council not to exceed spending the Undesignated Unreserved Fund Balance.

In comments to Begaye and Nez, Delegate Amber Kanazbah Crotty asked the leaders to direct their staff to help the Northern Agency delegates work with San Juan County officials in finding a solution for fire services on the Navajo Nation.

"I feel it is critical that we have a sound plan on how we are going to transition," Crotty said.

Delegate Jonathan Perry urged the president to support the creation of the Diné Uranium Remediation Advisory Committee.

He added it is important for the tribe to be involved at the national level when discussion turns to amending the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act.

Perry also asked for support for the Navajo Birth Cohort Study, which examines whether uranium exposure affects birth outcomes and child development on the Navajo Nation.

Comments eventually returned to the three-branch leadership agreement when Delegate Nelson BeGaye asked about its implementation.

"What is the next step? That's what I'd like to hear," BeGaye said.

Delegate Leonard Pete added he has noticed through the years that the president and division directors visit the council chamber during a session and then disappear until the next one.

He said the division directors follow the president like "little ducklings," and he would like that process to change and develop into a working relationship.

"Let's plant a seed, get it growing and see some results," he said.

Begaye explained his division directors attended the session to listen to the council's concerns, and they will work to address to the issues.

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.