Looking back—the top 10 stories of 2003<br>
(EDITOR’S NOTE: On Dec. 30, Speaker of the Navajo Nation Council Lawrence T. Morgan, Iyanbito/Pinedale, provided a list of his top 10 stories for 2003. Leading the list is the receipt of the Congressional Silver Medal of Honor by the Navajo Code Talkers for their commitment and bravery during World War II. The list reviews the year’s most notable stories.)
1. Nine Navajo Code Talkers receive silver medals – On Nov. 11 in a beautiful and remarkable Veterans Day celebration, the families of nine recognized Navajo Code Talkers received Congressional Silver Medals of Honor from Congressman Rick Renzi and Arizona State Representative Sylvia Laughter.
I was honored to read aloud the names of the Code Talkers to receive the medals, and Council delegate Katherine Benally made a poignant statement by interpreting Congressman Renzi’s speech into Navajo. The presentation was the highlight of a collaborative two-day celebration sponsored by my office, the Department of Navajo Veterans Affairs, the Navajo Blue Star Mothers, and Miss Navajo Marla Billey.
2. Navajo Nation Council confirms first female Chief Justice – The Navajo Nation Council confirmed the first female Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the Navajo Nation, Claudeen Bates Arthur, on Oct. 21, by a vote of 53 in favor, 14 opposed and 4 abstaining. The Judiciary Committee, which recommended Bates Arthur as a candidate for the job, took an active role at her swearing-in ceremony on Nov. 24, while her brother, delegate LoRenzo Bates, stood beside her as she took her oath of office.
3. Title II Amendments – At the Council’s summer session, the Council passed amendments to Navajo Nation Code Title II to eliminate the notorious Sec. 164 review process inherited from the Bureau of Indian Affairs. The amendments provide for a new legislative process and allow for much-needed changes in Navajo law, such as enhancing presidential powers to sign legislation into law. The amendments also provide for a greater role for the council delegates, where they will have more responsibility, and will be more accountable to legislate. The changes went into effect Jan. 1.
4. Take-over of Kayenta Community School – The Education Committee, acting on complaints received from members of the Kayenta community, passed a resolution giving control of the Kayenta Community School to Shiprock Alternative School Inc., until the Kayenta board could resume control. The committee had asked the Division of Diné Education to investigate and, through the investigation, learned that board members were allegedly misusing funds.
Despite the legally binding resolution, President Shirley contacted Aurene Martin, then Acting Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs, and asked her to intervene. The Navajo Nation Attorney General concurred with the president and the result was a take-over of the Kayenta Community School by the BIA starting Nov. 1.
Education Committee Chairperson Leonard Chee sponsored a resolution to remove Attorney General Louis Denetsosie at the council’s fall session. Fellow committee member Katherine Benally motioned to amend the resolution to reprimand, rather than remove, Denetsosie. The amended resolution passed on Oct. 24, by a vote of 40 in favor and 37 opposed.
5. Lawrence T. Morgan elected Speaker of predominantly new Council – On Jan. 27, I was elected Speaker of the 20th Navajo Nation Council after representing the Pinedale and Iyanbito Chapters for more than 12 years.
I pledged to improve services and work among the Legislative Branch through performance-based evaluations and to improve media and public relations. I vowed to bring the council into the Information Age, a task the legislative branch is accomplishing through the hiring of a new information technology specialist and the purchase of a computer system for the council.
6. First Education Summit — In a display of wisdom and foresight, the Navajo Nation Council’s Education Committee co-hosted the first Navajo Nation Education Summit Sept. 25-27 in Albuquerque, N.M.
At the summit, the committee presented a memorandum of understanding that would establish a government-to-government relationship between the Navajo Nation and the states of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah. The memorandum is needed because the federal-mandated No Child Left Behind Act requires accountability and adequate yearly progress (AYP).
AYP is supposed to be a tool to measure student learning and progress. However, since each state has different standards to measure AYP, the Navajo Nation must deal with at least three different standards. The Education Committee continues its work to establish a Navajo-specific tool to measure student progress.
7. Navajo Nation adopts Gaming Compact – With a vote of 59 in favor and 13 opposed on Aug. 29, the Navajo Nation Council approved the New Mexico Gaming Compact for the Tohajiilee, N.M. Chapter.
The Economic Development Committee and I witnessed New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson sign the Council-approved gaming compact on Thursday, Nov. 6. The gaming compact must now be approved by the Department of the Interior.
8. Council Delegates meet with U.S. State Department – Members of the Council attended the Council of Large Land-Based Tribes meeting in Las Vegas, Nev., on Dec. 10 to discuss provisions of the international Draft Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
There they met with Katherine Gorove of the State Department and advocated for the Navajo Nation’s rights, both individual and collective, to be clearly spelled out and favorable to Navajo sovereignty. Gorove agreed to meet with the tribes again on Jan. 22-23 in Washington, D.C.
9. More information access for the Navajo people – The first Navajo Nation Council website went online in July. The website contains updated information on the activities of council and its standing committees.
In addition, “The Legislator – Navajo Nation Council Newsletter” debuted on June 28. The fourth issue of the newsletter will be published and available Feb. 7. This year, I also began biweekly radio addresses on KTNN and biweekly editorial pieces to inform the Navajo public of the most pressing issues of the day.
10. Navajo Nation Washington Office under duress – The whole issue began on the floor of the council fall session when delegates Ervin Keeswood and Wallace Charley brought it up to council.
At stake were the careers and reputations of four young Navajos working at the Washington Office. They charged that NNWO Director Sharon Clahchischilliage verbally abused them, forcing them to resign.
On Nov. 25, the Government Services Committee unanimously passed a resolution to transfer NNWO from the Executive Branch to the Legislative Branch. However, the resolution failed to pass the Intergovernmental Relations Committee at a Dec. 1 meeting by a vote of five in favor, three opposed and two abstaining. With that vote, GSC remains the oversight committee for NNWO.
(Lawrence T. Morgan is Speaker of the Navajo Nation Council.)