Could the Navajo Nation be the first tribal government to have its own embassy in the national capital? Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez hopes so.
The Navajo Nation Washington Office has been tasked with looking for reasonably priced properties to purchase in the the area.
“You have these embassies, nations, wouldn’t it be something to see the Navajo Nation having its own embassy and purchasing land here in Washington D.C. where we can have our own sovereign grounds,” Nez said. “If the federal government allows countries, nations, to do that. Why can’t the Navajo Nation do that in Washington D.C.?”
He said it would also be a good investment because the nation spends thousands of dollars a year to rent space for the office.
“We can present that to council and see if we can purchase some land here,” he said. “We spend a lot of money on leasing a facility. Wouldn’t it be great to have our own facility here and be the one leasing out rooms.”
Only the Navajo Nation wouldn’t exactly be the first. The National Congress of American Indians designated its headquarters as an embassy in 2009. The Embassy of Tribal Nations is centrally located just a few miles from the Capitol and near the White House.
NCAI claims to be “the oldest, largest, and most representative American Indian and Alaska Native organization serving the broad interests of tribal governments and communities.” It’s a collective of tribes from across the nation.
The embassy was described by NCAI President Jefferson Keel as a permanent home for tribal nations.
Keel is also lieutenant governor of the Chickasaw Nation which has an office it calls an embassy on Capitol Hill. Charles Blackwell had been appointed as a delegate to Washington in 1990 and then promoted to ambassador in 1995. He served in that office until his death in 2013. The current ambassador is Neal McCaleb, but he works from Ada, Oklahoma.
This is how President Nez would like the proposed Navajo embassy to feel like for his tribe and other Native nations.
“Be that embassy for Native Americans throughout the U.S.,” Nez said.
He sees this as something the Navajo Nation could do as a service for other tribes in Indian Country. “We’re already engaged at that level to work with other tribes,” he said.
The Navajo Nation isn’t a member of NCAI because the tribe has the resources to be its own advocate at the national level.
“As big as Navajo (is) we can advocate for ourselves that’s why we have the Navajo Nation Washington Office,” Nez said. “With a large number of registered voters that vote in the state and federal elections we have the ear to a lot of lawmakers here in Congress.”
The population of the Navajo Nation gives it a larger platform with over 350,000 Navajo people, the nation has larger voter blocks in Arizona, New Mexico and Utah.
“We’re very influential,” Nez said. “We don’t need to be a part of any organized group out there like NCAI but we do talk with them.”
With this influence the Navajo Nation leader says he would like to give voice to issues other tribal nations are facing.
“To advocate not just for Navajo but we have an opportunity to help out smaller tribes,” Nez said. “We’ve gotten folks reaching out to us saying ‘we need some help.’ I think we could be a larger advocacy group for Native Americans.”
Nez believes tribes are coming to the Navajo Nation for support because of the turmoil NCAI has been dealing with internally. Last fall, 40 tribes voted no-confidence in executive director Jacqueline Pata’s leadership after allegations of mishandling reports of sexual harassment by NCAI general counsel John Dossett Since then Pata has resigned and the organization is searching for a new leader.
“Some members of NCAI have reached out to us to help,” he said. “It just seems that folks are looking at other Indian nations.”
He said this as an opportunity to build more and bigger collaborations. “Maybe,” Nez said, “this is a transition to another, larger, group where Navajo Nation could be the chair.”
Pauly Denetclaw, Diné, is a fellow with Indian Country Today. She is a staff reporter for the Navajo Times. Her work is supported by a grant from the Bay and Paul Foundations.
(Indian Country Today, LLC., is a non-profit news organization owned by the non-profit arm of the The National Congress of American Indians. The Indian Country Today editorial team operates independently.)