Letters: Uplift NM American Indian day
Thank you for your coverage in the Navajo Times regarding American Indian Day at the New Mexico Legislature held at the State Capitol on Feb. 6.
As a freshman legislator in the New Mexico House of Representatives, serving on behalf of constituents in East Gallup, McKinley, and San Juan counties I am getting quite an education in “how things work” in the New Mexico political system. Thank you for affording me the opportunity to work with other state leaders on behalf of our citizens.
But I’m already seeing a trend that concerns me greatly. With the advent of a Republican majority in the New Mexico House, I am seeing a clear erosion of the state’s commitment to its Native American citizens, leaders and communities.
American Indian Day provides a start-point. The purpose of this specially-designated day has traditionally been for state government to hear from tribal leaders from throughout the state. It’s part of the “government-to-government” relationship, which gets strengthened when tribal leaders are given the opportunity to give voice to their needs, concerns and goals.
This year, the Republican leadership broke with tradition; the governor was the only speaker. She spoke some good words to the assembled leadership from “Indian Country New Mexico”. But then, no opportunity was given for the tribal representatives to provide their State of Tribal and Pueblo Address.
My House colleagues across the aisle defended this break with tradition on the basis that the voices of the tribal leaders take too long and interrupt legislative business.
I have a different view. Why not truly uplift this American Indian Day and give it the focus and priority it deserves?
New Mexico is truly unique in the diverse Native populations whose indigenous homelands lie within the state boundaries. The traditions and contributions of those populations are a huge part of the mystique and the wonder of what we call “The Land of Enchantment.” And by the same token, the unmet needs and goals of these people deserve the attention of the Keepers of the State’s treasury.
In designing the program and protocol of American Indian Day, why not reach out to the tribal leadership from all of our two dozen Native nations – early and often throughout the year? Have them co-design the Day, and have them collectively bring forward their speakers for the occasion.
In fact, under the visionary leadership of New Mexico’s first Indian Affairs Secretary, Mr. Alvin Warren, the state adopted the State-Tribal Collaboration Act of 2009, which was passed to require every state agency to “promote effective communication and collaboration between the state agency and Indian nations, tribes or pueblos.” I would take the principle to also apply to the state legislature and the Office of the Governor.
In another unfolding story in this trend of the erosion of state support for Indian communities, the House Ways and Means Committee just passed a bill that calls for a 14 percent reduction in funding appropriations to the Tribal Infrastructure Fund, despite the widespread opposition by Indian governments throughout the state. Bill sponsor Rep. Jason Harper (R-Sandoval) who chairs that committee did listen to many of those concerns earlier in the week, and he did make some accommodations. But the main thrust of the bill remained the same: solving a state financial problem on the backs of the poorest of the poor in New Mexico.
The TIF was established by earmarking 5 percent of the state’s Severance Tax Fund every year for targeted project funding in Indian communities. There was a reason for it. As the representation of the Pueblo of Laguna said at the hearing, the state’s Indian communities are at a serious disadvantage when it comes to raising revenues for even the most basic of infrastructure development. The TIF was a progressive and generous response by the state legislature to provide a set-aside resource for Indian communities. That generosity is now being withdrawn. A few percent now but how many percent later?
I encourage all of my constituents and the Navajo Nation leadership to keep an eye on this trend, and to help me stem the tide on behalf of our people. Let your New Mexico state legislators know that you will not stand for this erosion of state partnership and support for its bipartisan Indian communities.
Rep. Doreen Johnson
House District 5
Women’s conference a landmark event
The 16th annual Heart to Heart Women’s Conference held Feb. 14, 2015, was attended by 275 Native American women from inter denomination faiths featuring inspiring speakers and testimonials, an uplifting music presentation by Nashville Gospel Artist, Allison Durham Speer, took center stage. She gave a superb performance in music, songs, stories, and comedy.
It was a landmark event on many fronts, the Verde Valley/Sedona Women’s annual conference event partnered with an inter denomination inter-tribal Native American Christian women from across Canada and the United States and hosted on the Navajo Nation to address common issues of alcohol and drug abuse, divorce, illness, grief, and violence.
Many participants benefited from the event, which united churches, pastors and members in their message of redemption and salvation. Presenters offered testimonials and hope to overcome challenges, to inspire and uplift women to thrive in mind, body and spirit that included Karen Antone (Canadian) from WINGS Ministry, Denisa Livingston, Cynthia Adson, and Enkhsuren from Mongolia.
Louva Dahozy’s closing remarks challenged women to reclaim their parenting responsibility and engage their wayward children to redemption for the life they were intended to have by God’s creation rather than blame society. This concluded a perfect message of love for the Valentine’s Day event.
(Hometown: Ozarks-Pine Hill, N.M.)
Searching for Mae Rose Yazzi
My name is Barbara Hughes. I am attempting to locate Caroline Yazzi Smith, the daughter of Mae Rose Yazzi, a medicine woman of the Water Way and the Eagle Way, and a member of the Bitter Water Clan.
Mae Yazzi and I became close friends while I was employed at IHS in Chinle. She was kind enough to tell me stories about Navajoland when she was a child and about her grandmother who was also a healer.
Caroline Yazzi Smith became friends with my daughter Karin when they attended Navajo Community College in Tsaile, Ariz. When I left Gallup for Trinity, Texas, Caroline, along with her husband and son, accompanied Karin and I. They visited for a few days before returning to the reservation.
Mae and I remained good friends and she visited me in the mid-1990s after I moved to Joplin, Mo. After Mae’s death in 2006 I lost contact with Caroline until a year ago last Christmas when I got a picture from Caroline’s daughter Megan Smith, who is my granddaughter in the Navajo way. She sent a long letter, but when I called Window Rock information for the phone number (based on the address) it was unlisted. A couple months later I called again but there was no record of her being there then. I have been looking for her since. She said in the letter she was working for a large Navajo corporation, possibly with energy or helping the Navajo people. She has her degree in human resources.
I would very much like to speak with Caroline again. My address is 127 Hamlet Road, Apt. 114, Branson, MO 65616.
I would greatly appreciate any help you could offer to accomplish this.
Ignoring established laws
This crisis is unsettling where leaders on Navajo haven’t realized what state of affairs their course is in 21st century. It really presents itself as a Third World country, which someone implied describing Diné. Some have even classed “reservation” fits that description of our lagging developing self-governance. It’s because of these significances Diné must realize the need for better leadership with facts and supportive role for improving our unfixed government.
In the last Navajo Times, it sounds as though the candidates are desperate and troubled about getting back into the game of unsettled chaotic status they were part of but neglected to see it. It seems without their realization they were unprepared and now want to try again the second or third time to glue the matter.
Surely, there is a need for immediate ruling on matters of importance to the Navajo people, but incidentally, we have a lingering and “newly” forming government, which has been in the works for over 90 years since 1923. It was instituted by our supposedly “trustee” of the national government who now only looks the other way.
It is a simple matter to just follow the “law launched for Diné for right now” instead of trying “to reinvent the wheel in the middle of the stream” as an idiom phase of policymakers. Why do people want to ignore and disrespect our “tribal law” that states that, “the Navajo Nation Council is the Governing Body of the Navajo Nation.”
Individuals, groups, probable candidates, including election administration and other executive branch programs are advising our Navajo Supreme Court to directly make its decision to disregard and take-on “the governing responsibility” upon itself. This line of thought certainly would ignore “the law of the Navajo Nation land.”
This turmoil should give signal to Diné voters that politicians and opposing groups will go so far as to ignore established laws of the nation. Simply put, as law-abiding citizens we must follow “the law” which is what the Navajo Nation Council has passed as “decisive law”. It took on its responsibility by passing legislation to implement new primary and general election and approved by president of the Navajo Nation. In that light, our Supreme Court must and is obligated to follow that “new law” of the land.
The present problem we’re faceted with in governance of Diné Nation stands until the time comes when a true branches of government is approved by our Diné constituents. Our present difficulty should teach us to soon renew or reform our government to fit our 21st century society. Let us not obstruct or gamble with our future by giving faults governance to our young Diné.
The worst thing we can do is to ignore the dilemma or have too many politicians and others put their hands into dictating our governance. As leaders and honorable generation of adults we must remember what we are teaching our Diné youngsters because soon they will preside over in conducting the role of our nation.
Adolph June Jr.
Court only interrupts the law
I would like to comment on what is going on with the Navajo Nation presidential election. Personally I think the resolution passed by the Navajo Nation Council and signed by the Navajo Nation president to begin from square one is the proper route and final. After all, the Council is the lawmaking body for the nation and the court only interrupts the laws. The final decision lies with the Council. This should not even be heard in the courts.
And for the presidential candidates to file with the court saying it is unfair to have the election begin all over is not right. Is it also unfair for a hearing officer impersonator to disqualify a candidate?
To be fair, let the top two in the 2014 primary face off and have a general election. After all, this is whom the voters wanted and should be honored. Let’s go on with Deschene and Shirley. This will be a true election. And the two losers give in and step back. It was the voters who voted them out in the 2014 primary, not Deschene. Let it be Dale and Hank. Accept the loss and go on with your life.
Again, this is my personal opinion and that the voters get the right individual to be the Navajo Nation president. Good luck to Deschene and Shirley.
‘Sacred is not meant to divide us’
From our earliest memories, our late grandfather Sam Bluehouse yeeh, who was a traditional Navajo herbalist, taught us that our Navajo cultural law, Dine Bi Beehaz’aanii, was to be used to heal and to restore harmonious balance and order within Navajo communities, families, and individual tribal members.
The many Navajo traditional ceremonies that we have participated in, conducted by elderly Navajo medicine practitioners supports our late grandfather and father’s teaching on the use of Navajo cultural laws to heal and to restore to harmony.
That being said, the cautionary teaching was we should never use it to harm others, divide communities, families, and individuals, or to foster disharmony. To do so would be to bring destruction to the sacred relationships between Navajo people, Navajo deities, and nature.
Given this background and cautionary teaching, Hank Whitethorne, Dale Tsosie, Dr. Joe Shirley Jr., and their attorneys’ adversarial use of Navajo cultural law – as determined by a prejudicial analysis of Navajo cultural stories – in the ongoing political dispute is diametrically opposed to utilizing Navajo cultural law to heal and restore harmony to the Navajo Nation.
The legal brief submitted by the Navajo Nation Department of Justice states that the “Petitioners, in their brief add to this disharmony in their use of Dine Bi Beehaz’aanii to attack the personal integrity of the Nation’s leaders and those who aspire to be leadersThe result is that Dine Bi Beehaz’aanii stories and teachings would be placed in [a] confrontational juxtapositionThis approach is antithetical to the Navajo tradition…Utilizing Dine Bi Beehaz’aanii stories and teachings in a strictly adversarial context would necessarily pit one story against another. [T]he very nature of the adversarial context easily lends itself to characterizing the other party by negative words. This negative characterization does not comport with the fundamental Navajo principle that, “people speak with caution and respect, choosing their words carefully to avoid harm to others.'”
A recent conversation with a well-known medicine practitioner supports the Navajo Nation DOJ’s amicus brief to the Navajo Supreme Court. The medicine practitioner observed that, “Our Navajo cultural law, its stories and teachings, are not to be used to fight one another. They are there to help us understand how to live together, peacefully. The white man’s law and their courts do not care whether people co-exist together peacefully. They are only concerned about winning at all costs.”
After explaining how western judicial systems worked, and the juridical doctrine of stare decisis (case law developed from previous court decisions establishing precedent), and how Dine Bi Beehaz’aanii is being used by Mr. Whitethorne, Mr. Tsosie, and now Dr. Joe Shirley Jr., she was in disbelief that the cultural laws, stories and teachings were being used in an adversarial way, pitting one interpretation against another, all without baa yati’ (or talking things out) to determine the correct application of the cultural laws, stories, and teachings. In Navajo she said, “Our ways and teachings are for the individual and the family. Because the Navajo deities have made us different from one another, and we all have our own challenges, Dine Bi Beehaz’aanii and the stories can have very different meanings and can also reveal different path-ways to reestablish hozhooji’. What they (Mr. Whitethorne and Mr. Tsosie) are doing is not right. Dii baanji’kai’igii, doo awho’teedah.” She added that people will be harmed by this, “People who go against our teachings and use our culture in this way could risk losing their minds, and will also need ceremonies to be healed.”
Reading Mr. Whitethorne and Mr. Tsosie’s legal petition, drafted by their attorneys, Mr. David Jordan and Mr. Justin Jones, we come across the troubling pronouncement that “There is no concept of pardoning in Dine’ culture and beliefs.”
This has been resoundingly rebuked by Navajo people who know their culture, and by attorneys representing the Navajo Nation Department of Justice and the Navajo Nation Council. An elder Navajo woman eloquently observed, “The power to forgive is at the very core of our Navajo culture. We are called upon to freely forgive others, and we can also ask for forgiveness. The ceremonial process for re-establishing harmony, hozhooji’, or coming back into harmony, hozhooji’na’haasglii is an act of seeking forgiveness. That’s why when we pray, we acknowledge those things that we did, and we give offerings to be forgiven – to be healed. If we do these things according to our teachings, we are forgiven and returned to harmony. This is very much at the heart of who we are as Navajo people.”
Furthermore, despite their erroneous misinterpretation of the Deer Children and Coyote storyMr. Jordan and Mr. Jones in their reply brief now explore yet another Navajo cultural story and teachings of our Navajo Warrior Twins and their interactions with old age, hunger, poverty, and thirst, who, after talking things out, “forgave them.”
We have to pause for a moment and recall the cautionary lesson that to do so is to risk losing your mind. This may be evident by the petitioners saying one thing and then later saying something else completely different; they are in conflict within their own minds. Given this arbitrary, random, and subjective treatment of our sacred cultural laws, stories, and teaching, the Navajo Supreme Court justices are urged to proceed with extreme caution, and to acknowledge that our cultural laws, stories, and teachings are meant to protect us, and in ceremony, to heal us and restore us to Hozhooji’. The sacred is not meant to divide us.
Milton Bluehouse Jr.