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‘We must return to the teachings of Hozho’: Hataalii Assoc. poised to receive $1M for coronavirus response


The Diné Hataalii Association could receive $1 million to support its efforts to fight COVID-19 and help heal the people if President Jonathan Nez signs off on the Council’s first CARES fund spending plan (No.132-20), which pays for immediate needs related to the Nation’s coronavirus response.

The legislation was passed by Council last Friday and allocated funds for special duty (hazard) pay for essential personnel ($20 million), personal protective equipment ($10 million), and facility safety ($10million), plus the million for the association.

“The $41 million in immediate funding will give our frontline responders and essential workers the compensation they badly deserve,” said Speaker Seth Damon, who sponsored the bill. “It also provides for personal protective equipment and safety assurance for thousands of our Navajo people that are looking to return to a safe workplace.”

Resolution CMY-44-20, which was passed on May 15, established “The Navajo Nation CARES Fund” through the CARES Act. Per the act, expenditures must be “necessary” to the Nation’s COVID-19 response and be incurred by Dec. 31.

While the act was partially line-item vetoed by Nez on May 30, the parts of the resolution that became law set up a process for the Council to approve allocations of CARES Act funds through spending plans.

Last week, Delegate Carl Slater, vice chair of the Health, Education, and Human Services Committee, introduced the amendment to provide $1 million to the Diné Hataalii Association to fund its proposal to share and promote the teachings of Diné cultural wisdom and traditional healing practices to alleviate the mental and spiritual health impacts of the pandemic.

“I believe the way we can work best together and do good for our people is by harnessing support for these practices and perpetuation of this knowledge,” said Slater.

“The purpose of this proposal is to restore the health and wellness of the Diné people by employing ceremonial interventions and through development and dissemination of cultural education materials and information,” states the association’s proposal.

Slater believes there is a thirst for knowledge among the people and the Council has a responsibility to consider that.

First health care system

The association is a nonprofit that was established in 1970 and has over 200 registered members in five agencies. It is presided over by David Johns, president and Lorenzo Max, vice president.

Its core mission is to “protect, preserve and promote the Diné cultural wisdom, spiritual practices, and ceremonial knowledge for present and future generations of Diné.”

“A large percentage of Diné people still utilize traditional Diné healing interventions, ceremony, and cultural wisdom to maintain wellness,” the association said in their proposal. “This practice, in essence, is our first health care system.”

The association believes sharing the Diné philosophy of life can promote empowerment, self-care and self-healing.

“The Diné hataalii are called upon in times of fear, illness, uncertainty, danger and illness to offer wisdom, guidance and healing recommendations,” said John and Max in a statement. “We recognize this virus has come into our homes, our bodies, our minds and our spirits in the form of illness and fear.”

This, they say, is a matter of urgency and there is a great need to reduce the high levels of stress Diné are experiencing due to the pandemic.

The association’s $1million budget includes $160,000 for ceremonies and supporting the work of the hataaliis. The proposal states strict safety protocols will be followed that incorporate Navajo Nation Department of Health and Centers for Disease Control guidelines.

Another $376,000 will be allocated for regional agency funding, $302,000 for staff salaries and consultants, and 60,000 for educational outreach, which will include regular radio broadcasts, public service announcements, and written and audio-visual material.

Other expenses include equipment, supplies, travel and other services.

Michelle Kahn-John, secretary for the group, said it is important to support the hataaliis at this time who have been largely volunteering their services and have lost income because of the constraints of the pandemic.

“There are many people calling on the hataaliis for help but many of them don’t have the resources to have a ceremony or to pay the hataalii,” Kahn-Johns told HEHSC members. “We want to pay our hataaliis so they can continue to heal our nation.”

She indicated this is a pivotal time to be able to offer prevention, protection, and restoration of harmony.

The educational component is also key.

“We’d like to offer education of traditional teachings to help strengthen them, spiritually and mentally, and help them cope with grief, loss, fear and mental anguish,” said Kahn-John. “We need to develop and package this curriculum to help our people be strong and empower them.”

Collective healing

Slater’s amendment had unanimous support from HEHSC and most of the Council delegates.

The chief concern among some was that if one religious group is awarded funding the door should be opened to other faith-based groups, including the Diné Medicine Man’s Association and Azee’ Bee Nahagha, and others.

Lorenzo Max said the Navajo belief system is not a religion but a way of life, taught by the ancestors.

“In a lot of ways, we interpret the laws of nature that were put in place for everyone,” said Max.

He said it is important to raise awareness and reach as many people as possible about these things so they can protect themselves.

Delegate Otto Tso said that he would like to see assistance to hataaliis be equitable and inclusive of all medicine men across the Nation. He indicated that not all of them are members of an association.

He asked how the association is collaborating with other groups like the Diné Medicine Men Association.

“How do they fit into the picture?” he asked.

Tso also said there is a Diné Hataalii Advisory Council under the Navajo Historic Preservation Department, which is officially recognized by the Council.

Slater said he was open to discussion about alternatives and a more inclusive plan, but that at this time it was the association that came forward with a specific proposal.

Slater pointed out that the question of how to incorporate traditional medicine was one of the main concerns of the Council when they initially started discussing public health orders and legislation to mitigate the spread of the virus.

“How do we retain and protect traditional knowledge and our elders and create a prosperous future based off of these precepts?” asked Slater.

As to concerns about whether the assocation is faith-based or religious, Slater referenced Fundamental Law.

“I want us to turn to what’s in our Code,” he said. “The Code doesn’t rely on any other traditions. This is the animating force of our Nation and our people.”

Slater also spoke to the long-term impacts of the trauma of the pandemic.

“Who knows what the psychological impact this will have on us, on our youth?” said Slater. “What sort of toll will this weigh in our collective psyche in years to come? Will it be a story of sadness, or a story of eventual triumph?”

Slater said leaders have an opportunity now to make sure that when they tell the story in the future, they can say they supported the traditional forms of knowledge, leadership, and a plan.

“Let’s honor our obligations,” said Slater.

On Tuesday, No. 132-20 was on its way to the president’s desk for his signature or veto.


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