‘The people’s house’: Legislative branch celebrates first tree lighting
On Tuesday evening luminarias lined the Navajo Nation Council Chamber and a tall, beautifully decorated tree, sourced from the Chuska Mountains, lit up the outside entry way.
“This is the very first time the legislative branch is having a Christmas light ceremony,” said a beaming Speaker Seth Damon.
Staff Assistant Donovan Hanley said he was tasked with making the trek east of Tsaile-Wheatfields, Arizona, to harvest the specially selected tree with members of the Navajo Nation Forestry and Historic Preservation departments.
It just so happened that area of the forest received the first snow of the season on the same day, he said, which made the experience all the more magical.
“That snow came in and we were the first ones up there,” said Hanley. “The tree really stood out. I loved the whole process.”
Those who attended the tree-lighting event were treated to cookies and warm beverages, caroling, and a special dose of holiday cheer by the legislative branch.
Legislative helpers also distributed gift items to all in attendance for the historic event.
Damon thanked all of the children who were there.
“We have some toys for the kids,” said Damon, who emphasized the importance of recognizing those less fortunate during the holidays and those who might not have families to return home to or celebrate with.
“We look out for them,” said Damon. “Especially those who might be having a tough time in their lives. We let them know that everyone is a human being in this world and needs to be recognized at some time. Everyone has hopes wishes and dreams.
“This Navajo Nation Council Chambers is your home too,” he added.
Damon said the speaker’s office and the legislature are trying to start new programs like the tree-lighting ceremony to bring people together.
“We’ve been opening up the Council doors to more and more activities,” said Damon.
He stated that he believes that the Council is “the people’s house,” and not just a place for leadership.
“We want to make sure people know that the Navajo Nation government is theirs,” he said.
Damon encouraged individuals and school groups to plan a visit to the Council Chamber and consider a guided tour of the historic mural paintings.
“We welcome all of the youth and anybody who’s visiting or driving through,” he said. “When we’re in session, everyone is welcome.”
Tours can be scheduled with Chief of Staff LeShawna Tso, he said.
“People think that they don’t have a voice in their government, but if we have more interactions like this, we can make sure to bring new leadership into this realm,” he said.
“This chamber was put in place for the people,” said Damon. “The murals on the walls depict that our ancestors fought for us, and for building this hogan.”
Miss Navajo Nation Shaandiin Parrish said that since she was a little girl this time of year has always been centered around family.
“To me the holiday season is a time to slow down and celebrate kinship and family around the fire,” said Parrish. “The K’e and relationship-building in the winter is crucial to preparations for the weather and the needs of the people.
“It’s a time that we prepare by gathering wood,” said Parrish. “It builds a teamwork within our immediate and extended families.”
Former vice president and cultural advisor for the president’s office Rex Lee Jim said a prayer for the tree-lighting ceremony.
“Winter is a time for family gatherings,” said Jim. “The nights are longer, and you have more time, so that’s when we tell stories and share songs. It’s a time to refresh your mind and talk to family members about values and principles and plan out the next year.”
Jim said it’s a time to rest and rejuvenate, and to plant seeds and set goals.
It’s also a time to reflect on the previous seasons and consider if anything needs to be corrected or adjusted in order learn from ones mistakes and move forward.
Finally, Jim emphasized that this is a good time of year to remind ourselves to be grateful.
“Every day has a spiritual life that we need to be grateful for,” he said. “People say you only live once, but it’s not true. You live every single day.”