Navajo Government & Education

The Navajo Nation has the country's largest tribal government body. It is governed by 88 tribal council members, elected every four years by popular vote by the Navajo people on and off the reservation. The Tribal Council has established 12 different Standing Committees which oversees nearly every facet of the Navajo Nation. It also established the Office of the Speaker, who is selected by the 88 Council members every two years. The Speaker is a member of the Navajo Nation Council, and presides over the Council and the Intergovernmental Relations Committee, one of the 12 Standing Committees.

Our tribe, as with others, have the right to tax their members, the same right the federal and state government, for without the ability to raise money to support tribal programs, self-government could not be possible. The Navajo Nation can tax non-Indians using tribal lands for farming and grazing. They can tax the oil and gas extracted by non-Indian companies operating on the reservations, and they can regulate fishing and hunting on their homelands. The Navajo Nation can exclude trespassers from tribal territory and can regulate the use of reservation property among tribal members and non-Navajos. The U.S. government requires non-Navajo traders to obtain permits from tribal governments before they can open businesses on reservations. The Navajo Nation imposes land use ordinances, as Sheep Permits, in an attempt to preserve and protect their land.

Navajo Tribal courts decide civil disputes between Navajos and non-Navajos on its reservation. A civil dispute is one that involves ordinary, private matters that are not unlawful. Tribal courts largely deal with divorce, child custody problems, civil disputes between Navajo citizens, and minor crimes such as a violations as keeping more sheep than that is required. Federal law enforcers handle major crimes such as murder, arson, burglary, and robbery. Navajo tribal court cannot impose more than a $500 penalty or a jail sentence longer than six months in criminal cases. Court proceedings on the Navajo Nation are conducted in the Navajo language, in English, or in a mixture of both languages.

The Navajo Nation was the first to begin to operate their own educational system. It started in 1966 with the Rough Rock Demonstration School at Chinle, the first Indian-directed and Indian-controlled Elementary School in the nation. Navajo educations developed a Navajo curriculum, teaching children about their way of life, language, and history. Then in 1968, with the first Indian-owned and Indian-directed College, the Navajo Community College (now Diné College). The Navajos oriented the campus to the east, and the main college road comes into the campus on the east side. The direction "East", represents thinking, reasoning, and planning to the Navajos. The campus designers also shaped the dormitories like hogans. In 1970, the first Indian-controlled high school was open, Ramah High School. Now, almost all Navajos attend Navajo elementary, middle, and high Schools, on and just off the Navajo Nation.

In 1970, President Richard Nixon told Congress in a special message on Indian affairs that Indian tribes should have the right to operate their own schools. In the early 1970s, Congress responded to Indian educators who insisted on participating in their children's education, passing several bills that dramatically changed Indian education. For example, Congress passed the Indian Education Act of 1972. This bill stated that Indian parents and communities had to participate in creating education programs and curricular materials and in adult education programs. In 1975, President Ford signed a landmark law called the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act, requiring "maximum Indian participation" in education programs for Indian children. Now Navajo parents serve on PTAs and school boards, and they decide what their children will learn about Indian cultures.

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