Biden-Harris administration appoints Navajo people to Washington positions
FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. — Former state representative Arlando Teller and Wahleah Johns have been selected for positions in the Biden-Harris administration and a Navajo woman, Jasmine Blackwater-Nygren was appointed by the Apache County Board of Supervisor’s to fill Teller’s seat.
Teller will serve as deputy assistant secretary for tribal affairs for the U.S. Department of Transportation.
“I am really grateful for this opportunity, but know that I’m not doing this alone,” Teller said. “There are mothers across many tribal nations that are hoping I listen to them and heed their concerns about school bus routes, bridges and the airports that fly community members in and out of rural communities throughout America.”
Teller said part of his work will be assuring tribal transportation issues are heard, as well as advocating for funding.
“I am very excited and extremely honored,” he added.
Teller resigned from his office as a state representative in Arizona after just being elected to a second term in November’s election.
Teller is currently undergoing orientation and will work remotely until it is safe to relocate to Washington, D.C.
Johns was selected to head the U.S. Office of Indian Energy Programs and Policy.
She is the co-founder and director of Native Renewables, a company that brings solar energies to Native American homes and trains Navajo solar installers. She’s also been a community organizer and advocate for water protection, and economic and environmental justice. She is also the chairwoman of the Navajo Green Economy Commission.
Johns grew up on and near the Navajo reservation, where about 15 percent of homes lack piped water and 10 percent lack electricity.
Without power lines, families on the reservation rely on batteries and gas generators. Johns said families can pay anywhere from roughly $150 to $700 a month just on fuels, depending on the season.
“And usually in the winter, it’s more,” she said.
The Office of Indian Energy’s 2020 budget was $22 million. The Trump administration requested only $8 million for its 2021 budget.
The office has a staff of seven people, with three in Washington, D.C., and two each in Golden, Colorado, and Anchorage, Alaska.
To provide services to the nation’s 574 tribes, the office works to promote Indian tribal energy development, efficiency and use, reduce or stabilize Indian tribal energy costs, strengthen Indian tribal energy infrastructure and electrify Indian land, housing and businesses.
“I feel honored for my nomination to serve in the Biden-Harris administration as the Director of Indian Energy at DOE. As the original caretakers of this land, I believe Tribes can lead the way to solving our climate crisis and building a regenerative and clean energy future,” Johns said in a Tweet.
Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez and Vice President Myron Lizer also congratulated Jasmine Blackwater-Nygren, who was appointed to serve as a member of the Arizona House of Representatives, representing District 7, which includes a large portion of the Navajo Nation.
“We always tell our young Navajo people to get their education and help our people, and that’s what Rep. Blackwater-Nygren is doing,” Nez said. “As the legislative session continues in Arizona, we are looking forward to working with her on many issues.”
Blackwater-Nygren resides in Red Mesa, Arizona. She is Hashtł’ishnii and born for Áshįįhi. Her maternal grandfather’s clan is Nooda’i dine’e tachiinii and her paternal grandfather’s clan is Bitahnii. She will fill the seat vacated by Teller.
“Ahe’hee’ to everyone who has supported my appointment to this position. I am humbled to be your Arizona House of Representative. I look forward to working with the people of LD7,” said Blackwater-Nygren following the appointment by the Apache County Board of Supervisors.
Blackwater-Nygren earned a bachelor’s degree from Stanford University and a Juris Doctor from Arizona State University, and recently passed the Arizona Bar Association exam. She has worked at the grassroots level with the Red Mesa Chapter as well as an employee with the Navajo Nation Legislative Branch and Judicial Branch.
Valinda C. Shirley
Nez and Lizer also commend the 24th Navajo Nation Council for unanimously confirming the appointment of Valinda C. Shirley to serve as the executive director of the Navajo Nation Environmental Protection Agency.
Shirley has served as the acting director since December 2020, when former Executive Director Oliver B. Whaley resigned to spend more time with family.
Shirley resides in Rock Point, Arizona, with her husband and children. She is Táchiinii and born for Tł’ízÍ łání. Her maternal grandfather is Bit’ahnii, and her paternal grandfather is Ta’neeszhahnii.
Before her appointment, Shirley served as the Senior Remedial Project Manager for the Navajo Nation EPA Superfund Program, coordinating on-site environmental cleanup or remediation projects to ensure compliance with Navajo Nation and federal environmental laws, standards, and regulations, and requirements, including Diné Fundamental Law.
“With her upbringing, education, and professional experience, we are excited and confident that (Shirley) will do a great job leading the Navajo Nation EPA,” Nez said. “Her traditional upbringing combined with her formal education in biochemistry provides for a unique and very knowledgeable perspective on many issues related to protecting our environment for generations to come.”
In her previous role with the Abandoned Uranium Mines projects, Shirley spearheaded the Northeast hurch Rock Mine Site and the Tronox sites in Cove and Tse Tah, Ariz. She also advised the U.S. EPA concerning Navajo Nation laws and Diné Fundamental Law as Applicable or Relevant & Appropriate Requirements (ARARs) used in the Mariano Lake’s cleanup standards, Mac and Black Mine Sites located in New Mexico. She also coordinated with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission on a Source Material License amendment for the United Nuclear Corporation mill site in the Eastern Navajo Agency.
Shirley thanked the Navajo Nation Council for its support and said she looked forward to working with the council and the president and vice president to address environmental issues.
“ I hold the Office of the Executive Director of the Navajo EPA in the highest regard, and I have the utmost respect for the agency and its employees. Since 1992, Navajo EPA has been the regulatory authority that safeguards Diné bikéyah dóó Nihookaa’ Dine’é,” Shirley said. “In my experience working with the agency, it has served as an integral part of government by ensuring Nihimá Nahasdzaan dóó Nihit’aa’ Yádiłhił are kept clean to the highest of standards for our seventh-generation grandchildren.”
Shirley also extended her gratitude to her family and her colleagues for their support and guidance. She added that she will continue working hard to create positive changes to help the Navajo people through community involvement and Ké, and ensuring that currently funded AUMs progress to a level of cleanup with tangible results, and strategizing a way for the Navajo Nation to address the illegal dumping of refuse.
Some information provided by the Navajo Nation Office of the President and Vice President
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