The Phoenix Voice of the Navajo Nation

By: Aspen M. Jensen

Distance cannot sever strong bonds easily. The technological advances of today make it easier than ever to remain close despite distance. Still, difficulties arise being far away. Navajo urban tribal members keenly feel these difficulties living far from the Navajo Nation. Some difficulties concern loss of voting, representation, language, and culture.

Navajo is the second largest federally recognized tribe with 332, 129 members according to the Navajo Population Profile 2010 U.S. Census.[1]  However, this census reported only 42% of tribal members resided on the Navajo Nation.[2] The largest population outside of the Navajo Nation resides in Phoenix. Approximately 17% of tribal members live in Phoenix alone.[3] Additionally, the growth of the Navajo Nation from 2010 to 2020 is estimated to be substantial due to majority of the 2010 population ranging from ages 0-29. [4] This upcoming generation represents great hope, but also carry the worries of the potential distance from the Navajo Nation. The distance from culture, language, resources, and family concern all members.

In October 2018, Arizona State University hosted the Navajo Nation Presidential Forum. Audience members submitted questions to the potential President of the Navajo Nation. One question posed, “[g]iven the large population of Navajos in the Phoenix area what are your thoughts in creating a Phoenix Chapter House to represent and serve your people?”[5] Current Navajo President, Jonathan Nez, answered this question with enthusiasm. He commended his audience for venturing out and encompassing the concept of self-reliance, “You have laid a place for yourself…used your own resources, built your own homes…we need that self-sufficient mentality.”[6] He went on to propose that an Office of Navajo Urban Relations would be better. [7]

The interest of creating a Phoenix Chapter House exists, but it is plausible? First, contemplate the purpose of a Chapter House. In 1998, the Navajo Nation passed the Local Governance Act acknowledging the Tribe’s inherent right to govern its people on the local level. This act devolved more power to local units and gave them authority to assume a wide variety of local government functions.[8]  Chapter Houses are political subdivisions of the Navajo nation created to handle administrative matters, receive and manage funding for programs, and make decisions over local matters.[9] The Navajo Nation boundaries spread over northern Arizona, western New Mexico, and southern Utah approximating to the size of West Virginia.[10] There are currently 110 Chapter Houses within the Navajo Nation.[11] The inability to vote within the Navajo Nation creates some frustration for Phoenix Navajo residents without traveling back to a registered Chapter House hundreds of miles away. Another is not having access to programs, teachings, and advantages offered within the reservation boundaries.

Examining Navajo Code Title 26 § 3(C), there are three requirements for creating a new Chapter House:

  1. Upon presentation of evidence to the Navajo Nation Council that the proposed Chapter represents a community group which has existed and functioned as a community for four (4) continuous years.
  2. Upon presentation of evidence that the population of the area exceeds 1,000 persons for each of the existing Chapters and that there is a need to establish others.
  3. Upon presentation of evidence that the topography or the unique demography of the Chapter area makes it necessary to have more than one Chapter to allow residents access to Chapter meetings.[12]

These rules come across as deceptively simple. There are monetary challenges, jurisdictional issues, and the need of approval from Navajo Nation Counsel Delegates. Further, the Chapter House needs to be on tribal land. There may be a challenge acquiring land in Phoenix. However, allotted land (a parcel of land either owned by the United States in trust for an Indian), restricted fee allotment (land owned by an Indian subject to restriction imposed by the United States against alienation), or purchased land by the tribe could overcome this hurdle. [13]

“All that is missing is a proposal,” stated Council Delegate Otto Tso.[14]  Councilor Otto Tso is one of the twenty-four elected district delegates representing the 110 Chapters. He currently represents To’Nanees’Dizi Local Government (formerly known as Tuba City Chapter).  He stated his support of not just a possible Phoenix Chapter House, but Albuquerque, New Mexico, and Salt Lake City, Utah. Councilor Tso stressed the feasibility of a Phoenix Chapter House but that it depended on the people. Council Delegate Paul Begay representing Coppermine, K’aibii’to, LeChee, Tonalea/Red Lake, and Bodaway/Gap Chapter Houses, also expressed his support and the importance of reconnecting the urban population with the homeland. [15]

Despite tremendous hurdles to overcome, the call of the question is who will begin the work? As President Jonathan Nez expressed addressing Navajo’s Phoenix members, “(We) have the ability to change our nation if we all get involved.”[16]

 

[1] Amadeo Shije, U.S. Census Bureau Denver Region P’ship & Data Serv., Navajo Div. of Health Navajo Epidemiology Ctr., Navajo Population Profile 2010 U.S. Census, 5 (Navajo Area Indian Health Serv. Office of Program Planning & Evaluation ed. 2013), https://www.nec.navajo-nsn.gov/Portals/0/Reports/NN2010PopulationProfile.pdf.

[2] Id. at 7.

[3] Id. at 27-8.

[4] Id. at 29.

[5] Ariz. State Univ. Events, Navajo Nation Presidential Forum, (Oct. 18, 2018), http://mediasite.law.asu.edu/media/Play/203ab0af35184005b0e1a7159a7ee62c1d.

[6] Id.

[7] Id.

[8] Eric Lemont, Developing Effective Processes of American Indian Constitutional and Governmental Reform: Lessons from the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, Hualapai Nation, Navajo Nation, and Northern Cheyenne Tribe, 26 Am. Indian L. Rev. 147, 160 (2002).

[9] Navajo Nation Code Title 26 § 103 (D)

[10] Id.

[11] Id.

[12] Navajo Code Title 26 § 3(C) (2014).

[13] Navajo Code Title 26 § 2(3) (2014).

[14] Interview with Otto Tso, Council Delegate, 24th Navajo Nation Council, in Window Rock, AZ. (Sept. 27, 2019).

[15] Interview with Paul Begay, Council Deligate, 24th Navajo Nation Council, in Window Rock, AZ. (Sept. 27, 2019).

[16] Supra note 1.

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