Fourth Branch of Navajo government: Council of Elders & Medicine People

Greetings Relatives/Frens/Humans, I’m back here at the Navajo Nation Government Development Commission where the Commission is continuing their seminar on Indigenous Nation-Building: Leadership, Governance, Constitutions, and Development Success” which was started at their January 2015 meeting.


The main Navajo government needs to get organized and i think that is what this Constitution is all about.

Ramah has been doing its own thing since Martha took over.

there are all kinds of government systems. some tribes accepted non-indian ways of governing. some choose non-indigenous. some have own government, like navajo we have Dine Fundamental Law. so you can go traditional or other way.

Governmental forms varies tremendously across Indigenous Country. There’s no one-size-fits-all pattern today and no one-size-fits-all solution tomorrow.

which one should Navajo use? the one that keeps works, that keeps navajo together, address navajo problems/issues/interests; matches/maintains culture/navajo language. In other words, there’s no one best way. there’s only the way that’s best for your circumstances. Governing institutions match community beliefs about how authority should be organized.

the indian reorganization Act is non-indigenous so not for Navajo. most self governing tribe is in Canada. IRA is centralized power; directly elected executive; representative council; no independent judicial function; politicized business management.

before invasion of white people, the nations here each had all kinds of government. but after invasion, we were forced to all have same government. those nations with non indigenous systems of government are Citizen Potawatomi Nation. some indigenous nations and communities chose non indigenous system, such as Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes of the Flathead Reservation. Some havea government systems that continue to rely to one degree or another on indigenous way, and they are are Gitanyow, Onondago, Laguna, Cochiti, Navajo.

Mixing the old and new is a long standing indigenous response to problems and opportunities. some nations and communities are applying it to governance challenges today.

Cochiti Pueblo – they have governor but not as much power, except for secular responsibilities. the War Captain has most power and oversees spiritual responsibilities. The governor’s job is to protect the sacred core of Pueblo Life from the outside. Anyone appointed to one of the six positions is a member of the legislature – the Council of Principales – for life. It’s changed a little but relatively the same since Spainards.

Small nation in British Columbia, Gitanyow: hereditary Chiefs Constitution, its government is split; an Indian Act chief and council of Hereditary Chiefs take care of land and they have own laws. Chief and council mostly deal with INAC. Hereditary chiefs have authority within traditional territory with regard to land and resource use. Hereditary chiefs have a Constitution, written to inform Canada and others about how they govern. there are eight house territories with chiefs and sub0chiefs. the house sysem includes a traditional system of planning, consultation and implementation. the traditional system in fact is highly democratic and open through the mechanism of the feast…If for exampale, a chief or a sub chief dies, the House gathers for a planning meeting, chaired by the head chief…Anyone in attendance can speak and all have a say in determining what will happen. There is ano open discussion of succession, for succession is based upon a number of criteria including: understanding of the law; knowledge of territory; attendance of feasts; personal wealth (because of chief has obligatoins); and personal history including any instances of law breaking for example intraclan marriage. These criteria are outlined by the elders, who also generally know who fits the criteria to succeed.

GITANYOW GOVERNMENT: Council of Hereditary Chiefs: Issues concerning the traditional territory, land, management, resources stewardship. Elected Chief & Council: Administration of programs dealing with INAC.

so how wud Navajo nominate elected officials? maybe allow the elders to nominate, choose a nataani. i’ve been asked a couple of times to run for president by a couple of people. i want to see a lot of people behind that person. and put in Constitution so that people who say, Me, Me, Me, I want to be council delegate, president, chapter official.

what about changing our name from Navajo to Dine’ and put in Constitution so it is law.

Who is the leader of the Navajo Nation? President or Speaker?

one of biggest problem is role of responsibility so put in constitution – thisi s what president responsible for and this is what speaker is responsible for. For Cochiti Pueblo – War Captain takes care of issues inside Pueblo. Governor takes care of problems on the outside.

Before 1900, the people were really involved until the BIA formed the Navajo government and put everything in Window Rock and set up the chapters too as a test. If Navajo set up chapters, how would it be done? Clan? Land? And then there was the creation of Townships. What are traditional land bases/territory of communities? We just accepted BIA boundaries. if you have no Navajo law in your government structure then you promote someone else laws and there is no promotion of Navajo culture. People forget who is actually from that place. Constitution is to promote culture, way of Navajo thinking. If don’t do that then the children don’t know who they are.

And what about the involement of Navajo women in the selection of Council delegates, president, etc. And there should be place for medicine people and youth. Here’s a possibility – Member Citizen are equally over Navajo Council and Executive Branch which are on equal footing and separate from Council and Executive Branch is Judicial Branch, which is overseen by Council and Executive Branch. And in the middle is the Elder and Medicine People Council, separate from Council, Executive Branch, Judicial Branch.

Read Haida’s Proclamation at the beginning of its Constitution and you will know who they are. The Dine’ Policy Institute was suppose to be the reservation’s think tank but I don’t know where it’s at now.

the Mohawk Council of Akwesasne have created a process for developing community law and so they are moving closer to a sitution in which the elected system and the traditional system compliment each other.

the way you know court system really strong is that it’s too hard to remove judges. if judges can be easily removed then there’s this recycling of judges. Judges should only be removed for a serious crime, serious matter. All over the world, if judges removed, the council puts in who they want for favorable decisions.

The Citizen Potawatomi Nation has a powerful, independent court system that assures everyone – citizen or not – that disputes will be dealt with fairly, without consideration of who you voted for or who your relatives are. Its court system is a major reason why CPN is one of the most economically successful indigenous nations in the U.S. In 2007 the CPN crated a 16-member legislature: Half the members will be elected at-large from Oklahoma to represent their fellow citizen Potawatomis in the state. The other eight members will each represent a legislative district outside Oklahoma. Tribal citizens in each outside Oklahoma district will elect the representative from their district.

Hopi Tribe is both traditional and IRA. only 4 don’t pariticpate. they said they are traditional and will not be involved in white man’s government.
some other things to think about is Fourth Branch – for San Carlos this is the San Carlos Women who reminded the elected officials of ethics, morality.

for us, the Four Branch could be attorneys, who are non-navajos, making decisions on water rights, settlement of $550 million. when president really becomes president then we will see businesses flourish because that person will remain with us, not attorneys.

for president, there is no Council of Advisors and i think it should be former presidents. the last thing you should do is have attorneys make decisions because you are giving up sovereignty. This Council of Advisors would sit and talk with president. There would be a reflection of options, solutions. Many Indigenous nations have the ususal three branch government but some haave an elders council or equivalent body to make cultural decisions, deal with sacred sites and administer the oath of office. Others are revitalizing traditional societies to play a role in governance.

there should be something like that between central government and chapters. these chapters get ideas and then Navajo Department of Justice shuts it down.
there is actually some sovereignty on reservation and it’s in the form of recognition of traditional ceremonies grounds, churches on individual homesite leases.

i recommended to chapters that they design their entire government structure at the chapter level that involves staff and so when there is funding, the staff are funded.

the last time there was traditional Navajo leadership was before Hweeldii. There was leadership structure consisted of highly respected and honored families. A clan Naa’taanii and a regional Naa’taanii were selected to represent several homesteads. In selecting a Naat’aanii, the people first carefully considered all available candidates, weighing the strengths and weaknesses of one against those of another and finally selecting a person in whom the majority had confidence.

The criteria for selecting a Naat’aani was wisdom, traditional knowledge, community citizenship, successfully living in harmony, and representing a family with high morals. The Naat’aanii had to know how to conduct at least one healing ceremony.

The Dine’ were organized though clans, representing the separation of powers and checks and balance though K’e and K’ei’.

Two members in each clan group were selected to serve as lifetime spokesperson. One spokesperson chosen to serve as a Hozhoojii Naat’aah (Peace Leader) called and presided over family meetings and discussions. The other spokesperson was designated as a Hashkeeji Naat’aah (War Leader) to oversee war parties. A ceremony called Naachid was performed for the two chiefs.

Naachid was a great ceremony that was last performed in the 1850s and was to be performed again before the Long Walk period. This tribal assembly was performed in two to four year intervals depending upon the crisis. It lasted all winter long, from harvest time to planting season.

Twelve Hazhoojii Naat’aah (Peace Leader) and twelve Hashkeejii Naat’aah (War Leaders) gathered together for this important meeting. The appointment of Hozhoojii Naat’aah were selected based upon their eloquence, good judgment, and uprightness. Hashkeejii Naat’aah were appointed by a special honor bestowed upon them for their prowess in warfare.

The Naat’aah gathered in either in hogan or brush shelter which was built in a circle. The Hozhoojii Naat’aah sat on the south side while the Hashkeejii Naat’aah sat on the north side. Depending upon the purpose of the meeting (peaceful times or war) one or the other group would preside over the meeting.

Common Navajo Traditional Values: Respect, Traditional foods; Running; Sensitivity; Songs; Relatives/Kinship; Storytelling; Kinship; Water; Spirituality; Language; Land, Farming.

In the Dene (Canadian) Traditional Governance, all have an equal voice and no one person can be forced to accept a decision. Leadership within clans or family units was closely linked to the land and spirituality. Communities were small groups of relatives. Communities cooperated with other communities when it helped everybody.

Dene (Canadian) Law: Share what you have; help each other; love each other as much as possible; be respectful of elders and everything around you; sleep at night and work during the day; be polite and don’t argue with anyone; young girls and boys should behave respectfully; pass on the teachings, be happy at all times.

as Navajo Government Development Commission, you have tough job but good job.

Transparency is about full participation and collective decision-making. Transparency is born out of collective decision-making. When important issues came, historical governance embraced broad decision-making. Transparency in the Indigenous life is full participation versus the idea of representative governance in western traditions. Instead of a select powerful minority “reporting” decisions made back to the communhity, in this model, community members participate on the ground level of decision-making with full involvement.

Government carries primary responsibility for creating an environment of good rules – rules that are stable, that reduce uncertainty, and that people trust and respect. Any government – Indigenous or not – that fails to do this will have difficulty improving the health and welfare of the community it governs.

government reform takes 30 years and so terms of office for NGD Commission should be ten years. We are looking at chapter government reform and we did that.

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