Navajo Nation welcomes First Lady Jill Biden to Window Rock

First Lady Jill Biden meets with leaders of the Navajo Nation

Jill Biden spent the first day of a trip to the Navajo Nation listening to female tribal leaders, whom she referred to as her “sister warriors,” about the needs and priorities of the country’s largest Indian reservation.

Biden sprinkled sentences in Navajo that indicate the holistic nature of the culture, which connects all things and lives in balance, beauty and harmony. She said she was proud to speak to the Navajo Nation on a day highlighting the protection of Mother Earth, a reference to Biden’s climate change agenda.

“It is up to all of us to find our way back to Hoz’ho together – harmony and beauty, the world as it should be,” she said on Thursday under a red sandstone arch with a cutout that gives the tribal capital Window Rock its name gives . “Despite the challenges you have faced, the Navajo Nation lives this truth over and over again.”

The trip was Biden’s third trip to the vast reservation that stretches as far as Arizona, New Mexico, and a corner of Utah, and to her inaugural visit as first lady. She vowed to work with the Navajo nation and all tribal nations to recognize their inherent sovereignty and political relationship with the United States.

During her visit to the Navajo Nation Museum, where she met with the female leaders, Biden saw a copy of the 1868 treaty the tribe had signed with the US government that freed them from a barren stretch of land in eastern New Mexico and Their return enabled their home within four mountains they hold sacred.

Navajo Nation First Lady Phefelia Nez thanked Biden for helping a cancer treatment center in Tuba City on the west side of the reservation, but noted that it has admitted more patients than expected and needs to expand.

“This kind breaks my heart because I have so many of my own family members who have become victims of cancer,” Biden replied.

Biden last visited the reservation in 2019, where she asked Americans to contribute financially to the treatment center to help eradicate the health inequalities in a region of high unemployment and poverty. She said Thursday she was surprised at the time that it was the first center of its kind on tribal land, but vowed it wouldn’t be the last.

Dottie Lizer, the wife of Vice President of the Navajo Nation, Myron Lizer, enumerated a number of topics she and Nez have worked on, including education and financial literacy, and efforts to protect Navajo children and families, cultural teachings, and the language of the tribe.

“It is an honor to support and work with a spiritual leader who shares the values ​​of harmony, faith and compassion with each of us,” said Dottie Lizer.

President Jonathan Nez later noted that the Navajo word for compassion, “jooba’ii”, sounds a lot like “Joe Biden.”

Dottie Lizer and Phefelia Nez were among a group of women who met with Biden in the library at the Navajo Nation Museum in Window Rock. The women wore traditional skirts made of crushed velvet or ribbon, moccasins and jewelry made of silver and turquoise, stones that were sacred to the tribe. Some wore their hair in traditional buns tied with thread.

Others spoke about violence against women, saying that more resources are needed for victims. Outside, some residents lining the streets along Biden’s path to the tribal government center held photos of indigenous women who had disappeared or were killed.

Navajo National Council delegate Amber Kanazbah Crotty said Biden’s decision to meet with female leaders sets the tone for the trip first.

Biden later spoke to a crowd of Navajo officials and dignitaries, including Miss Navajo Shaandiin Parrish, who were socially distant and wore masks. The Navajo National Council gifted Biden with a Pendleton blanket, which was wrapped around her when the temperature dropped and a chill set in.

Parrish received the title through a competition celebrating the role of Navajo women in society as caretakers, guides, and protectors. This includes slaughtering a sheep and preparing traditional foods. She said she was excited about the partnerships Biden will forge in the Indian country.

“Everyone in the Navajo nation has a great respect for women, and their position as first lady is enormous,” she said. “We all look up to our mothers and she is the first lady, the mother of the United States.”

On Friday, Biden will visit a boarding school and a nearby hospital where vaccines have been administered, both of which are maintained by the tribe under contract with the federal government.

First Lady Jill Biden visits the Navajo Nation

The visit of Dr. Jill Biden arrives as the Native American nation continues to expand its COVID-19 vaccination efforts. Meanwhile, the number of cases within the nation is declining.

The trip comes when the tribe has only had one coronavirus-related death in the past 12 days. Far fewer daily cases are also reported than at the start of the pandemic, when the reserve had one of the highest per capita infection rates in the country.

It will do so as the nation continues to expand its efforts and COVID-19 case numbers fall.

The tribe approached reopening more cautiously than surrounding states, most recently due to coronavirus variants identified in infections. Plans are in place to reopen the tribal parks to residents on Monday, increasing the capacity for businesses, gatherings, and tribal casinos to 50%.

“We’re not celebrating yet,” said Nez earlier this week. “The pandemic is still here.”

Dr. Biden’s visit was scheduled for the evening of April 22nd. It’s a two-day event that members of the Navajo Nation hope will lead to change.

“Talk about our healthcare system, the needs there, including the educational needs here. I think you really want to know how successfully the Navajo Nation has pushed the virus back,” said Jonathan Nez, President of the Navajo Nation.

The Navajo nation has been hard hit by the pandemic but is steadily adopting the vaccine, with more than half of the adult Navajo population now vaccinated.

“I think it is very important that someone from the White House comes here in the midst of a pandemic and that just goes to show how much she wants to hear and hear directly from the women of the Navajo nation and what they need to share with her. ” said Nez.

Janene Yazzie, who lives in the Navajo Nation, says she was told by Dr. Biden’s visit is very encouraged.

“Her visit gives her a different perspective on systemic issues we faced due to the lack of critical community infrastructure and forms of development access to resources that have made community diffusion so productive in our communities . “

And she hopes this visit will help foster change.

“Unconditionally upload the right of indigenous peoples to give us full sovereign authority to address these systemic problems with our own solutions.”

The First Lady’s visit will not be public due to the pandemic, but the President of the Navajo Nation will be broadcast part of her visit live at https://www.facebook.com/NezLizer2018.

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Fonseca is a member of the AP’s Race and Ethnicity team. Follow her on Twitter at https://twitter.com/FonsecaAP

Continuation of reporting on the COVID-19 pandemic:

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