“Some of you are asking if [the summer session] will end today,” Navajo Nation Council Speaker Johnny Naize said on Wednesday, July 17. “Well, it’s up to you.”
But the odds didn’t look good.
Opening day of the summer session was tied up mostly with reports from Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly and Vice President Rex Lee Jim, Speaker Naize, the Navajo Nation attorney general, a financial report by the controller and various reports from Indian Health Services, the chief justice of the Navajo Supreme Court and the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
Drought management rules need to be updated, Shelly said in his State of the Nation address on the first day of the summer session.
The drought forced Shelly to declare a state of emergency, which remains in effect.
The president also said that the Nation is involved in talks over the future of Na’nizhoozhi Center Inc., in Gallup. The NCI works with people struggling with substance abuse.
In his remarks Shelly also stressed the importance of using the Nation’s resources wisely and keeping jobs available on the reservation. The unemployment rate on the Navajo reservation, which is approximately the size of West Virginia, hovers around 50 percent.
Clearing all the mandated reports made Tuesday’s session look promising.
The consent agenda contained only a few items. In most governments the consent agenda consists of routine items that are unlikely to be controversial or require extended debate. Thus, the consent agenda is usually passed as a whole, one vote covering all the items on the consent portion of the agenda.
Not so, on the Navajo Nation Council.
They voted on each consent item individually and heartily debated the legislation asking the federal National Park Service to rescind its Policy Regarding the Antelope Point Marina and Resort Project, issued in January of this year. The NPS had rejected all the earlier amendments offered by the council.
Apparently it even took much discussion to accept a $2.5 million donation from Navajo Oil & Gas, which was to be used for the Nation’s Office of Youth and Development.
By the end of the day, momentum had stalled and the council only managed to get through its consent agenda.
Wednesday started out cool, with a menacing gray sky, but the sun made its appearance by 9 a.m., when council is scheduled to begin the day’s business.
The sun arrived on time, but not enough delegates to begin the day’s business.
At 9:55 a.m. only two of the 24 delegates were actually on the council floor. Fifteen minutes later there were about 40 spectators in the gallery. Many peeked several times at their agendas or made small talk with their neighbors.
Two men were teased for wearing Pittsburgh Steelers caps.
One man professed that he was a New England Patriots fan.
“The year hasn’t started yet and we’re already off to a bad start,” the Pats fan said, referring to team’s star tight end, Aaron Hernandez, who faces at least one murder charge.
“At least you’re not a Dallas fan,” one of the Steelers rooters commented.
The Rolling Stones sang that time was on your side, but it didn’t feel like it waiting in the stuffy council chamber.
“What item are you on the agenda?” an older man asked his companion.
“Second or third,” the man replied.
Near the front entrance a baby cried, maybe that was its way of saying, “Let’s get this show on the road!”
At 10:14 five delegates were on the council floor.
Several people were checking their cellphones for text messages; a lone phone rang, playing a melodic tune. A chat about True Value morphed into something about Sam’s Club.
But it seemed like people were running out of small talk.
“I’ve been called donkey and everything,” a younger man said to his friend.
Delegate Lorenzo Bates made his way around the chambers, greeting several people in the audience, before ducking into the small conference room for a hasty meeting.
The older of the Steelers fans rustled a brown paper bag and peered inside. “I’m going to get a coffee,” he decided. A few minutes later he returned to his seat with a cup of coffee.
Picking up his bag again he pulled out a Twinkie.
“You want one?” he asked his friend.
“How many you got in there?” the friend asked.
Both men opened their crème-filled spongy snacks.
At 10:33 the bell rang summoning all the delegates to come to the chamber. Nine were already there, though not necessarily at their desks.
“So, let’s begin,” Naize finally announced. “Fourteen delegates have checked in at roll call.”
It was 11:05. The Navajo Nation Council was in session.
Just in time for lunch.
John Christian Hopkins, a member of the Narragansett Tribe, has spent more than two decades in journalism, including as a nationally syndicated columnist. He is the author of The Pirate Prince, Carlomagno and Twilight of the Gods.