COVID-19 remains the focus in bills for Navajo Nation Council fall session

Noel Lyn Smith
Farmington Daily Times

FARMINGTON — Several bills listed on the proposed agenda for the Navajo Nation Council's fall session center around the coronavirus pandemic, including categorizing the violation of public health orders during a state of emergency as a crime.

The bill states that individuals can face charges if they do not comply with emergency orders or emergency actions declared in a state of emergency by the Navajo Department of Health, the Commission on Emergency Management, the tribal president or the chief justice.

In March, the Commission on Emergency Management declared a state of emergency because of the coronavirus and the health department has issued various orders to mitigate the spread of the new virus.

The bill does not state whether law enforcement has seen an increase in violations of the emergency orders since March, but it does list the range of possible punishments.

Navajo Police Officer Jose Oliva talks to a driver about curfews imposed by the Navajo Nation government to slow the spread of COVID-19. The police department shared the information during a checkpoint on April 1 in Hogback.

Another legislation opposes in-person learning at schools located on the Navajo Nation and supports the recommendation by the Navajo Nation Board of Education for all schools to continue online learning.

It also supports the board of education's resolution to oppose plans by the Bureau of Indian Education to reopen the 32 schools it operates for the fall semester.

The BIE scheduled the first day of school on Sept. 16 but later reversed its decision after Navajo leaders continued to raise concerns about the safety of students, teachers and staff.

BIE Director Tony Dearman and Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Tara Sweeney on Sept. 10 notified tribal President Jonathan Nez that the agency will use remote learning for the first nine weeks of instruction and will coordinate reopening plans with the tribe.

Delegates will also consider legislation to establish policy that prohibits the tribal government from endorsing candidates or political parties in federal, state and local elections.

The bill mentions the recent participation of President Nez at the Democratic National Convention and the involvement of Vice President Myron Lizer at the Republican National Convention.

While neither man stated they were appearing on behalf of the tribe, there was "public thought" the tribe was endorsing the parties' presidential candidates, the legislation states.

Navajo police officers from the Shiprock District conduct a checkpoint on April 1 in Hogback to remind the public about curfews imposed by the Navajo Nation government to slow the spread of COVID-19.

The focus on elections continues in another bill, which proposes to postpone the Nov. 3 general election for chapter governments, school boards and other offices.

If approved, the election would take place in 2021 and extend the terms of current officials until the election is certified and new officials are inaugurated.

The bill was introduced as emergency legislation on Sept. 28 but had not been listed on a council agenda until now.

Meanwhile, early voting either by in-person at any of the agency offices under the Navajo Election Administration or by mail-in voting started on Oct. 5.

Philo Pinto casts his ballot in the Navajo Nation referendum election during early voting on July 17, 2015 at the Navajo Election Administration's Northern Agency Office in Shiprock.

A copy of the entire proposed agenda is available on the council's website. The fall session is scheduled to start on Oct. 19 at 10 a.m. Due to public health orders that prohibit large gatherings, delegates will meet by teleconference.

It will stream online on Vimeo and YouTube under the Navajo Nation Council name and on the council's Facebook page.

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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