Jennifer Denetdale: Navajo Nation's modern path to sovereignty

Jennifer Nez Denetdale. Photo from Dickinson College

Jennifer Nez Denetdale, a member of the Navajo Nation Human Rights Commission, shares her inaugural address to the Navajo Nation Council:
When I received word of my selection to deliver the inaugural address for the 23rd Navajo Nation Council inauguration, I felt honored, for I have always supported tribal nation building, especially in light of the reality that our Diné nation remains a “domestic dependent” of the United States. As our newly elected leaders face challenges and our citizens feel a sense of crisis in our leadership, I offer my words as reflection on the past and the future of our nation and especially as affirmation of our kin relationships, for K’é must guide our governance and leadership.

Three historical junctures have been formative to the process of the modern Diné nation’s path to sovereignty and self-determination, which are always shaped by our relationship to the U.S. These moments reflect our efforts to govern ourselves based upon the teachings of Sa’ah naagháí be’k’eh’hózóóh, the path of Beauty and Old Age, teachings that guided our ancestors during a time of great strife and then articulated as self-determination during the civil and Indigenous rights movements of the 1960s and 70s. Third, the Navajo Nation’s presence at the United Nations, particularly through its established Navajo Nation Human Rights Commission and the use of human rights mechanism, is an act of sovereignty and self-determination.

As a Diné woman, I honor the perseverance and courage of our ancestors when they defended Diné bekéyah--Navajoland—against U.S. invasions beginning in 1846. Our ancestors acted with the consciousness that we are the original peoples of this land and our remembrance of them reaffirm that who we are as Diné is rooted to the land and gives rise to our lives, our values and ceremonial beliefs. Stories of my own great-great-great-grandparents, Hastiin Ch’il Hajiin (Man from Black Weeds) and his wife Asdzáá Tł’ógi (Lady Weaver) (who are better known in Navajo history as Manuelito and Juanita), tell of their efforts to defense the land and protect their people against American assaults.

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Jennifer Nez Denetdale: The Inaugural Address to the 23rd Navajo Nation Council (Indian Country Today 1/19)

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