On Monday, April 25, the Navajo Nation celebrated Sovereignty Day. Sovereignty Day commemorates the landmark court victory of the Navajo tribe in Kerr-McGee v. Navajo Tribe. In Kerr-McGee, the U.S. Supreme Court acknowledged the right of Indian tribes to tax members and non-members.
The acknowledgement that we have the power to exercise sovereign authority was so important that we as a tribe now take time to celebrate our status as a sovereign nation. This is especially important in this day and age when tribal sovereignty continues to be challenged in courts and administrative decisions at the state and federal level.
Sovereignty is a sacred principle, and one that we on the Council floor discuss at great length as we consider legislation. For example, the Navajo Nation Council has just finished up with the spring session. Our sessions are a true exercise of sovereignty where the Navajo Nation exercises self-governance.
Our entire Navajo government structure—from the local Chapter leadership to the central government—is a part of a whole sovereign nation where our powers are derived from the people to establish a government.
The Navajo Nation Council took action that exercises our sovereignty, especially in respect to protection of our natural resources and our sacred sites, during our most recent spring session. The Council voted to pass the Diné Natural Resources Protection Act, which bans uranium mining and uranium processing on the Navajo Nation.
The Council also unanimously voted to pass emergency legislation reaffirming the Navajo Nation’s opposition to the further desecration of our sacred mountain—Dook’o’sliid—the San Francisco Peaks. The Council was told that the Navajo Nation is filing an appeal to the decision by Coconino County Forest Services Supervisor Nora Rasure to proceed with artificial snowmaking on the Peaks. The last day to file an appeal was April 25.
One of the most significant actions taken by the Navajo Nation Council—with regard to sovereignty and protection of our sacred sites—was by resolution CN-69-02, the Fundamental Laws of the Diné. This fundamental law is important to our sovereignty and to maintaining the integrity of our culture.
The Navajo Nation Council adopted the Diné Natural Law wherein the six sacred mountains, Sisnajinni, Tsodzil, Dook’o’oosliid, Dibé Nitsaa, DzilNa’oodilii, Dzil Ch’ool’i’i, and all the attendant mountains must be respected, honored and protected, “for they, as leaders, are the foundation of the Navajo Nation.
The Diné Fundamental Law acknowledges our purpose in life and the right to life, wherein each creation has its own design and laws, and has rights and the freedom to exist. We know that the integrity of such a holistic system is meaningful and must be upheld and protected. As individuals, our responsibilities are so prescribed. As Navajos, we must uphold our responsibilities.
Accordingly, we, the Diné people are the designated stewards to preserve and protect the foundation of ceremonies and our Diné way of life. While we aggressively convey this message, the federal government has been unresponsive to Native tribes in our advocacy for protection of our sacred sites, such as in the case of the decision to proceed with artificial snowmaking on the San Francisco Peaks.
As you can see, political issues continue to be raised, whether relevant or not, that challenge our social order. These issues are raised in the name of prosperity and development, while Indian nations fight to defend cultural and religious integrity. In this day and age, our anguish continues, while our unique identities remain strong.
We must begin our discussions now, make plans and carry out action so that we as Navajo people will have the ability to create a sustainable environment and to protect our natural resources.
I must point out here that we are a whole nation that includes the significance of our environment. Our sacred environment makes us a whole person and a whole nation. We are never disconnected from our Mother Earth. We have a living bond to all of creation. It is a sacred bond. This is our true identity as Diné people. This is the reason that we must protect the integrity of our environment.
Our sovereignty then is directly impacted by the Sacred Mountains, and we must continue in our efforts to preserve them.
In this respect, it is important that we continue to advocate for international recognition of our most basic human rights. As indigenous people, we must demand that our rights to cultural integrity and environmental justice be recognized and respected by all governments, including the United States government.