Delegate says racism not true with comments about VA director
Delegate Kee Allen Begay Jr. criticized the nomination of James Zwierlein, executive director of the Navajo Nation Veterans Administration, to the Committee for Tribal and Indian Affairs at the U.S Department of Veterans Affairs.
Begay released a statement voicing his concern of a non-Navajo representing Navajo veterans on a federal level on Oct. 21.
“It is important for the Navajo people to know that a non-Navajo was appointed by the federal government at the urging of the Navajo Nation Washington Office to represent our Native American veterans nationally,” said Begay in the release.
The Times was asked by communications staff at the speaker’s office not to use Begay’s statements in an interview, however, since Begay was aware it was an interview and gave his statements on the record, they will be used.
Begay, in the interview, said he believes there’s a bigger issue with the process of the appointment since the feds picked a non-Navajo to represent the Navajo Nation.
He said he applied for the position and sent a letter to the VA, asking for supporting documents and application documents.
During this time, he said, he never received a nomination from President Jonathan Nez and only received one from Speaker Seth Damon.
Communications Director Jared Touchin, with the president’s office, said, “Nation president and vice president could not support Delegate Begay’s nomination because the VA limited them to only one nomination, so the Navajo Nation Washington Office worked with Speaker Seth Damon to nominate Kee Allen Begay Jr.”
“The Navajo Nation Washington Office submitted Delegate Begay’s nomination package on June 16, 2021,” he said, “and the VA acknowledged receipt.”
Begay said he does not want to be selected based on a technicality and would instead recommend a member of the Veterans Advisory Council tbe appointed rather than him.
He said his main focal point is the Navajo Nation should represent the Nation and he has received comments saying he is being discriminatory and racist toward a non-Navajo.
“We’re being told that we’re racist because we’re looking down on a non-Navajo staff which is totally untrue,” Begay said.
Begay gave an outline of things he would change regarding veterans and with many things he is bumping heads with Zwierlein.
He said veterans currently must go off reservation to get help and he wants that to change by providing direct services on the Nation.
He also said the housing policy has been going on three years with no construction and the policy requires veterans to select an area with water and powerlines.
“If the current veterans director is more of doing what he wants to do, it’s very obvious he won’t do what is needed,” Begay said.
Begay said Zwierlein’s contract allows him to hold the position and another appointed position at the D.C. level. He believes this should end.
Zwierlein did not respond to a request for comment from the Navajo Times.