The Navajo Nation Human Rights Commission (NNHRC) and the University of New Mexico’s American Studies Department hosted the conversations with Dine’ medicine people at the Fort Defiance, Ariz., Navajo Nation Chapter on Oct. 31 and Nov. 1, 2013.
According to NNHR Commissioners Dr. Jennifer R. Denetdale, who spearheaded this long-overdue event, the dialogue with Dine’ medicine people was also for the understanding of the role and significance of multiple genders in Navajo society. Denetdale explained that the term “gender’ is a recognition of multiple genders beyond the feminine and masculine, which naturally acknowledges individuals, including Navajo people, who identify themselves as LGBTQs.
The Dine’ medicine people who participated in this gathering were Marie Salt of Kayenta, Ariz., Rita Gilmore of Chinle, Ariz., Philmer Bluehouse of Ft. Defiance, Ariz., and Henry Barber of Breadsprings, Ariz.
A working session with the four medicine people involved discussions about traditional Navajo gender roles and how those roles have shifted, especially as a result of colonialism, which Denetdale explained as the imposition of a modern Western-style government on the Navajo people that has contributed to gender violence in the form of gender inequalities in the work place and within the Navajo Nation government.
She noted that a shameful and prime example of gender discrimination in the Navajo government occurred when Navajo women were tribal presidential candidates in two recent elections and questions were raised about the political leadership of Navajo women and whether Navajo tradition sanctioned gender discrimination.
Denetdale recalled that in 2012, the NNHRC held its first hearing on the status of Navajo women and gender violence to ascertain the extent of the issues and problems. The day-long session in St. Michaels revealed that women experience violence at far greater rates than men and that the violence is often unreported and undocumented. If it is reported, it is not addressed in a meaningful way.
For example she said she received testimony about a young girl calling the Navajo Nation police when her mother and father both started beating her. When the tribal police officer arrived, he scolded the girl for not following the teachings of her parents.
Denetdale also said that private attorney Jim Zion, who specializes in domestic violence cases, informed her that domestic violence has significantly increased from 1995 to 2002.
In one Navajo reservation community, it was reported that there were 500 domestic violence cases, she added.
Denetdale also recalled that the first Navajo symposium on LGBTQs in 2013 in Window Rock revealed that Navajo LBGTQs also experience violence because of their identities and sexuality.
She noted that international attention to violence against Native women and investigations by Amnesty International revealed that Native women in Canada and the U.S. were targets of epidemic violence, which pushed President Obama to sign the Violence Against Women Act and the Navajo Nation Council to approve the Violence Against Family Act, which criminalized domestic violence.
Denetdale credited all those activities and actions for prompting the Navajo Human Rights Commission to host the conversations and working session with the Dine’ medicine people.
The Oct. 31 and Nov. 1 sessions are a part of a series of NNHRC events and data gathering to address epidemic gender violence and to explore how the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples could be an effective mechanism to restore Navajo women to their prominent and respected roles in Navajo society.
On Dec. 18, 2014, the Navajo Human Rights Commission will hold the first of three public hearings public to gather more information from Navajo citizens on the nature and extent of gender violence.
The Dec. 18 hearing is at the Navajo Nation Museum in Window Rock, Ariz. The Jan 15, 2014, hearing is at the Tuba City, Ariz., Chapter. And the Feb. 19, 2013, hearing is at the Shiprock, N.M., Chapter. All the hearings are from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and the public is encouraged to attend and participate.
For more information, telephone (928) 871-7436.
HERE IS THE WEB ADDRESS TO MY YOUTUBE VIDEO OF DR. JENNIFER R. DENETDALE EXPLAINING WHY VIOLENCE AGAINST NAVAJO WOMEN & NAVAJO LGBTQs AND NAVAJO GENDER VIOLENCE IS A VIOLATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS: