Navajo Nation Council

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The Navajo Nation Council is the legislative branch of the Navajo Nation government. As stipulated in the Navajo Nation Code, "The Legislative Branch shall consist of the Navajo Nation Council and any entity established under the Navajo Nation Council.[1] The Legislative Branch shall not be amended unless approved by majority of all registered Navajo voters through a referendum." [2]

It has 24 elected members from the 110 chapters that make up the Navajo Nation. It is presided over by a Speaker who is elected by the council. The council meets at least four times a year in the capital of the Navajo Nation, Window Rock, AZ. The council delegates represent their respective chapters and when council is in session; issues pertaining to their chapters are discussed and new legislation is passed.



The Diné created the ceremonial gatherings called Naachʼid which met every 2–4 years or on emergency basis. The traditional Navajo government was organized around the principles of Hózhǫ́ǫ́jí dóó Hashkééjí or the nurturing and protection aspects of governance. Clans chose two representatives to attend these assemblies. The purpose of this ceremony was to protect and nurture the Diné. An individual who was selected to participate in that council was called naalchʼid. Hashkééjí Naatʼááh, translated as war chief, protected the people from any harm, from negative powers and from themselves as they moved away from the principles of Hózhǫ́ǫ́jí. Hózhǫ́ǫ́jí Naatʼááh, or peace chief, nurtured the individual, assisting the people to live in accordance with the principles of kʼé, to aide the community to maintain their relationships with all creation.[3] [4][5]

Modern Council[edit]

Navajo Council Delegate Katherine Benally [left] speaking to her constituency after the defeat of the proposed Navajo-Hopi Little Colorado River Water Rights Settlement Act.

The Navajo Business Council was created in 1922 by the U.S. Secretary of the Interior in order to certify mineral leases on the Navajo reservation. During its first meeting, the council acquiesced to U.S. pressure to grant the oil companies use of the land. In return, the Navajo Nation was promised more land that could be used for subsistence farming and sheep grazing. This first council was headed by Henry Chee Dodge. After refusing to adopt Commissioner of Indian Affairs John Collier's Indian Reorganization Act in 1934, the Navajo Tribal Council reformed in 1937. The name Navajo Nation Council or sometimes Navajo Nation Tribal Council came into use in 1989. The name change occurred with the Title II Amendments of 1989 which established a three branch government system. This created a clear division of Executive and Legislative powers by introducing two new positions as leaders of the executive branch, the President and Vice-President, and the new title of the leadership of the council, the Speaker of the Council.[6]
Until 1984, the Council and Navajo Nation had been supported by funding from the wealth of natural resources on the reservation but in 1984 the council established the Permanent Trust Fund in which 12% of all revenue each year were deposited. It wasn't until 2004 that funds from the trust fund could be accessed.



The Navajo Nation Council reserves all powers delegated and all powers not delegated. The Navajo Nation Council shall have all powers to discipline and/or regulate the conduct of its members, including removal. The Navajo Nation Council shall have the authority to promulgate rules, regulations and procedures for the conduct of its meetings and that of its committees. The Navajo Nation Council shall confirm the appointments of all division directors upon recommendation from the appropriate oversight committee. The Navajo Nation Council shall establish standing committees of the Council and delegate such authority to such committees as it deems necessary and proper for such committees to execute the purposes delegated.[7]

22nd Council (2011-2015)[edit]

On January 24, 2011, Delegate Johnny Naize (Blue Gap-Tachee/Cottonwood-Tselani/Low Mountain/Many Farms/Nazlini) was named speaker, a two-year position.[8]

List of 24 Current 2011-2015 Navajo Nation Council Delegates[edit]

George Apachito

Lorenzo Bates

Elmer P. Begay

Mel R. Begay

Nelson S. BeGaye

Russell Begaye

Katherine Benally

Joshua Lavar Butler

Lorenzo Curley

Charles Damon, II

Jonathan Hale

Kenneth Maryboy

Johnny Naize

Jonathan Nez

Leonard H. Pete

Walter Phelps

Alton Joe Shepherd

Danny Simpson

Roscoe D. Smith

David L. Tom

Duane Tsinigine

Leonard Tsosie

Dwight Witherspoon

Edmund Yazzie

21st Council (2007-2011)[edit]

The 21st Navajo Nation Council convened immediately after the 6th President of the Navajo Nation, Joe Shirley Jr., was sworn in as President for a 2nd term, with Vice-President elect Ben Shelly.

Two term Speaker of the Navajo Nation Council, Lawrence T. Morgan ran for a 3rd term as Speaker of the Council, while running against Fort Defiance Council Delegate Harold Wauneka in a run-off. Speaker Morgan captured a 3rd consecutive win, as Speaker of the 21st Navajo Nation Council. In 2009 Speaker Morgan once again won re-election to lead the Navajo Nation Council. Speaker Morgan has now serve a total of 4 terms as a Speaker, making him the first to ever do so.

Navajo Nation President Joe Shirley, Jr. addressed the Navajo Nation Council in the annual State of the Navajo Nation Address on January 24, 2005 and presented his conviction to develop a new governing document for the Navajo Nation. President Shirley, who campaigned to return government to the Diné by government reform, stated that the document must establish the structure and authority of a central government.

Navajo Nation Council Reduction[edit]

On Dec. 15, 2009, Tribal members voted to reduce the Navajo Tribal Council from 88 to 24 members, and the Navajo Nation Supreme Court ordered immediate implementation of the redistricting in a May 28, 2010 decision. On January 11, 2011 the 24 member Council took office and began restructuring of the legislative branch.

Probe of the Council's Discretionary Funds[edit]

In October 2010, Navajo tribal other officials, were charged in an investigation of slush funds just weeks before the November election. Not guilty was what the Councilmen charged pleaded, to those tribal charges of fraud, conspiracy and theft. Each misdemeanor count carrying a penalty of up to a year in jail and $5,000 if convicted.[9]


The Navajo Nation entered into a $1.9 million contract with OnSat Network Communications Inc., "OnSta," in 2001 to provide Internet services to all 110 chapters that ballooned to $32 million by January 2006.

A 2007 tribal audit found that OnSat had overbilled for service and that the tribe didn’t comply with procurement rules or a competitive bidding process in selecting OnSat. OnSat placed its participation in the federal E-rate program in grave jeopardy. The program reimburses between 85 percent and 90 percent of the costs for Internet services to the tribe’s chapter houses, which operate like city governments. The chapter houses lost service through OnSat in 2008 over issues of nonpayment.

Biochemical Decontamination Systems, "BCDS," was considered another failed Navajo Nation venture. The tribe invested $300,000 in the company in 2003 and held a 51 percent ownership stake. A loan guarantee to the company for a planned expansion ultimately cost the Navajo Nation $2 million. The loan came from a tribal fund used as collateral for small businesses.[10]

Discretionary funds[edit]

Any member of the Navajo tribe can seek financial assistance from a single Navajo lawmaker every six months, according to the policy, which has been amended over the years to exclude a limit on how much an individual could receive.[11]

The council, and the Office of the President and Vice President receive millions of dollars a year through supplemental budget appropriations to dole out to elderly Navajos on fixed income, college students, organizations in need or Navajos looking for emergency funding.

Allegations of improper payments from lawmakers to family members of legislative branch employees had raised serious concerns about whether a few elected officials have betrayed the public’s trust, according to the Navajo Attorney General. The Navajo tribal auditing office also initiated a comprehensive review of all discretionary funding by the council and president’s offices.


In December 2009, the Navajo Nation Council originally called for a special prosecutor in 2009 to look into the Navajo Nation President Joe Shirley Jr.'s relationship with two companies that had operated on the reservation. Attorney General Louis Denetsosie mandated that the investigation would focus on the tribe's contractual relationship with a Utah-based satellite Internet company, OnSat Network Communications Inc., a $2.2 million loan guarantee to BCDS Manufacturing Inc., and payments from the Navajo Nation Council's discretionary fund to family members of several legislative branch employees.[12]

The Special Division of the Window Rock District Court named the prosecutor by January 2010 and began work in early February of that year after the three-judge panel reviewed three applications January 20, 2010. Alan Balaran was hired as the Special Prosecutor and began performing his duties. Balaran, who served as the court-appointed special master in the Cobell trust fund case, will be under the jurisdiction of the special division, Denetsosie added.

Later, those obligations were expanded to include a tribal ranch program, and discretionary funds given to the tribal president's and vice president's office.[13]

Criminal complaints against the Navajo Tribal Council[edit]

The complaints were announced during the Tribal Council's weeklong fall session in Window Rock and just ahead of the Nov. 2 election in which nearly three dozen lawmakers are on the ballot. Police served some delegates with the complaints just before they convened for the fourth day of their 2010 fall session in the tribal capital of Window Rock.


In November 2010, The Navajo Nation Council, unhappy with the special prosecutor's focus on legislative branch slush funds, is organizing the removal of several people it holds responsible in some way.

On November 4, 2010, the Council voted 42-0 with two delegates abstaining to order legislation terminating Attorney General Louis Denetsosie and Deputy Attorney General D. Harrison Tso.[14]

On December 23 the council opposed the removal of the Deputy Attorney General in a 3-65 vote. A separate bill to remove the Attorney General was never introduced for discussion.[15]

Past Speakers of the Navajo Nation Council[edit]

Notable council delegates[edit]

Council Delegate Kenneth Maryboy informing his supports of Peter Macdonald's endorsement (2010)

Orlanda Smith Hodge (Cornfields, Greasewood, Klagetoh and Wide Ruins Chapters)


  1. ^ 2 Navajo Nation Code (2 N.N.C) § 101(A)
  2. ^ 2 N.N.C § 101(B)
  3. ^ pg25 /* note: this address used earlier does not exist. */
  4. ^ David E. Wilkins,"The Navajo Political Experience", 1999, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.,Pages 70-71.
  5. ^ For the spelling of Navajo terms: Young, Robert W & William Morgan, Sr. The Navajo Language. A Grammar and Colloquial Dictionary. University of New Mexico Press. Albuquerque, NM: 1987.
  6. ^ David E. Wilkins, "The Navajo Political Experience", 2003, Rowman & LIttlefield Publishers, Inc., Pages 92-95.
  7. ^ 2 N.N.C. § 102 (A-G)
  8. ^ "22nd Navajo Nation Council Selects Johnny Naize as New Speaker". Indian Country Today Media 2011-01-25. Retrieved 2012-12-13. 
  9. ^ Charges filed in probe of Navajo slush funds
  10. ^ Special prosecutor to probe allegations of illegal behavior of some Navajo Nation employees
  11. ^ Charges filed in probe of Navajo Slush Funds
  12. ^ Navajo AG calls for special prosecutor
  13. ^ Navajo Tribal Vice President Ben Shelly charged in slush fund investigation
  14. ^ Council says AG, deputy must go
  15. ^ Delegates dump bills to fire AG, deputy

External links[edit]