Thursday, January 23, 2020
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A shout-out to Council delegates

Navajo Nation Council delegates get bashed a lot, so I thought I’d take a moment to say how much I appreciate their good traits.

No one is perfect, and as humans, it is our nature to be flawed. We all have our strengths and our weaknesses.

Some delegates might do a better job at some things, or take on more responsibility in their work. Some might be more punctual to meetings than others, or more diligent about preparing for meetings.

Navajo Times | Rima Krisst
Delegate and speaker pro tem Seth Damon at the winter session in January before being named the official speaker of the Navajo Nation Council.

Some might be more experienced or have a better understanding of all of the rules and regs, and some are still learning. Some might be steeped in tradition and history and some might reflect more contemporary values.

However, each and every one of them has something of value to offer as well as different points of view, which I appreciate. Everyone is different, but what I see is that there are more often than not common values and common ground to work from.

I actually see the 24th Council as an unusually balanced group of individuals.

The bottom line is that every delegate is trying their best to do a good job in serving their constituents and the Nation as a whole.

We all know it is difficult to step up to a position of leadership, especially where there are a multitude of complex problems to solve with limited resources, restrictive regulations, and competing interests.

As a reporter who covers portions of their work, I have the opportunity to sit in the historic Council Chamber and standing committee meetings, sometimes for hours on end, listening to delegates speak and share their opinions. I can tell you it is really interesting and even dramatic on occasion.

I have to say that every time I do that I learn so much and I have gotten to know the personalities and priorities of each delegate, at least from a birds-eye view. I’m grateful for that.

I feel very fortunate to be able to experience all of these conversations that ideally relate to accomplishing things for the betterment of the Navajo Nation and/or improving services for the people in one way or another.

During this season of reflection and preparation for the new year, I just wanted to take a moment to acknowledge that and give a shout-out to all of those delegates who work so hard to represent their people and advance policies and legislation.

The processes involved are often complex, time consuming, and yes, can involve mobilizing political support, which can be complicated. These efforts are nothing to sneeze at.

Furthermore, based on the Diné principles of K’é, Hózhó, and respecting one another, delegates often find themselves in positions where they might feel an obligation to disagree with a colleague whom they might not want to publicly oppose. Yet they are willing to take a stand for what they feel is right and speak out for their constituents.

Negotiating these types of nuances can be difficult and requires a certain level of strength, experience and self-confidence that not everyone has, which is part of why they were elected.

It is my opinion that the amount of money delegates earn is really not enough to motivate them to do the job for the money, which they do get accused of. With their skill sets, they could probably find a regular job that pays better and offers fewer headaches.

What they all share in common is a desire to make positive change, and they have been chosen by their people to do so. My belief is that they have good intentions.

Having said that, I am not naïve to past instances of ethics violations, nepotism and even corruption that have plagued the Council and caused mistrust.

The job of delegate is basically bottomless and endless, because there is always more to be done and the needs are prolific. There are countless meetings to attend that often involve a crazy amount of round-the-clock travel, especially for those delegates that are out in Western Agency.

Honestly, I think those stipends, etc., are mostly well earned.

I have seen delegates on the brink of complete exhaustion who just keep going because they feel a responsibility to do so. Taking a break is generally not an option when there are still obligations to meet.

There is also the question, which has come up in Council many times, of whether or not it’s reasonable for there to be only 24 delegates. They are spread very thin. Frankly, I’m not really sure how the drop from 88 to 24 delegates was expected to work.

Several delegates I have talked to have said that going up to 44 might be a good idea. From an onlooker’s point of view, I would have to agree, simply because it’s obvious that the workload is too much for one person and leaves no time for things like illness or a personal life.

Another problem stems from the lack of clarity in the Navajo Nation Code as to how much time delegates are supposed to be spending back at their chapters or attending to their work in Window Rock in representing them. They are constantly being pulled in different directions, often by dissatisfied people. It’s hard to feel like you are constantly coming up short when you are working so hard.

Attending all chapter, committee, and Council meetings plus special events is often logistically impossible regardless of how committed a delegate is. So many feel torn and are regularly criticized for not being in two places at once. This is the part of the job that is definitely not fun and not fair.

So for people who feel that they need more representation from their delegate in the legislative branch, perhaps it is time to advocate for going back to a larger Council. That’s reasonable and worthy of consideration and discussion.

Recently Speaker Seth Damon said that the Council Chamber is “The People’s House.” He invited any and all members of the Navajo Nation to visit when they have a chance, and take a tour too. He said the activities that occur in the beautiful chamber are not just for leaders, but for the people.

This welcoming stance is somewhat of a change from the recent past and presents an opportunity to come see your delegates in action. I can assure you, you will be welcomed with open arms.

It can actually be very exciting and illuminating to see your delegates at work. I’m sure they would love to see you and would appreciate your input and support! Ahéhee’.



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