Native American discrimination addressed by Navajo Nation council

WINDOW ROCK - The Navajo Nation Council took action on several pressing matters facing the tribe during the 2006 Fall Session, the most important being the issue of racial discrimination facing the Navajo people in border towns surrounding the Navajo Nation.

The first day of session, Oct. 16, the Council heard reports from the Speaker of the Navajo Nation Council Lawrence T. Morgan (Iyanbito/Pinedale) and the DNA People's Legal Services on the issue of hate crimes in border towns. Next delegate Katherine Benally and the family of Harry Claw from Dennehotso presented issues of discrimination in Flagstaff.

Issues of discrimination were initially addressed by speaker Morgan during the July Summer Session of the Navajo Nation Council. Morgan said that he anticipates more reports will be made to Council as the issue is further explored.

Because gathering data from all border towns would have required much time and resources, DNA focused within the five towns of Farmington, Aztec, Bloomfield, Gallup, Page and Flagstaff. The information gathered focused on: information regarding formal administrative complaints by Diné to formal municipal authorities alleging police misconduct and/or excessive use of force; formal litigation on these issues in either state or federal courts; statistical data regarding hiring of Diné by municipalities, particularly in law enforcement; and formal training of law enforcement personnel in cross cultural sensitivity.

Following the research, DNA People's Legal Services concluded that no real data existed to support the claims of racial discrimination committed against Navajo people.

The Legal Services theorizes the reason for the lack of data is because such matters are frequently not reported. Furthermore, according to Dr. Barbara Perry, victims of racial discrimination may be reluctant to report such incidents because there is no clear process for reporting and the agency to which these reports should be made is unclear. There may also be a general feeling that further discrimination will occur if such incidences are pursued, she said.

The Speaker and the DNA People's Legal Services recommended that a subcommittee be formed to hear sworn testimony from Navajo citizens on treatment or mistreatment in border towns. They also advised that a Navajo Nation Human Rights Commission be established so that joint panels with the border towns could facilitate action within communities.

Action was made on these suggestions when legislation was sponsored by Ervin Keeswood (Hogback) during this most recent Council session. This legislation to establish a Navajo Nation Human Rights Commission passed by a vote of 60 in favor and 1 opposed.

Keeswood said that the primary focus of the Commission will be to seek and record personal accounts and incidents to support claims of discrimination by the Navajo people.

"The idea is to ask our own people right now," Keeswood said. "Once we collect that data we are in a good position to negotiate." Keeswood also described the intent for this Human Rights Commission to work with other human rights organizations throughout the world.

During the debate on the legislation on Oct. 19, Council delegate Mark Maryboy (Red Mesa/Aneth/Mexican Water) said, "There's over 300 million people in the United States. We need to find a way to get along. As Native Americans we are probably less than 1 percent of the population. I believe this is very appropriate and we should approve this legislation at this time."

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