Navajo lawmakers to take up veterans issues

By Felicia Fonseca
Flagstaff, Arizona (AP) 10-08

When Navajo lawmakers meet for their fall session, they’ll consider a measure to award tribal veterans with a medal honoring their military service.

The measure was tabled during the Tribal Council’s summer session so that it could be reviewed and discussed at a veterans’ conference last month.

Council Speaker Lawrence Morgan, who is sponsoring the bill, has said it’s a way to show appreciation for veterans who display acts of heroism, courage and bravery.

“We say we honor our veterans, we say as a Navajo government, as this sitting body, we honor our veterans. At the chapters, public gatherings we always say that. In our prayers we say that,” Morgan said during the council’s summer session. “Tangibly, we’d like to give an object that you see to know that they’re being appreciated.”

But some veterans say they are more pressing issues, including benefits for veterans, housing, running water and electricity.


“We are lacking veterans’ benefits on the reservation from the federal government,” Jackie Burbank, commander of the Chinle agency veterans group, said this week. “If they can work on that, I would support them. Just giving us the medal is not going to do us any good.”

Veterans as well as council delegates also expressed concern about the name of the medal – the Dine Nation Medal of Honor – and said it would only belittle the United States’ highest award for valor in military action.

Council Delegate Charles Damon tried unsuccessfully to get the name changed to the Dine Nation Medal of Valor during the summer session.

Burbank, a helicopter gunner during Vietnam, said he has a medal for the service he provided to the country that he’s proud of.

“But me, to get the medal of honor from the Navajo Nation, it’s uncalled for,” he said. “I didn’t earn it.”

Not all veterans would receive the tribal medal, Morgan said. Any one of the tribe’s 110 chapters can recommend a Navajo veteran to receive the honor along with an explanation of why that person deserves it.

Morgan would review the nominations before forwarding any to the full council.

Council Delegate Leslie Dele said that he plans to vote for the measure during the five-day session.

“I think a lot of Native American soldiers who served in Vietnam were not awarded accordingly,” he said. “A lot of them did duties to where they meet the medal of honor (standards), but they’ve never been given that.”

Two other measures – one that would establish a Division of Dine Veterans Services and an anti-piracy bill – were also tabled to the fall session.

Delegate Edmund Yazzie, who is sponsoring the anti-piracy law, said he would move to have the measure deleted from the agenda to allow more time to refine it. Delegates had questioned whether traditional and religious recordings would be protected under the law.

“We’re working on it right now and we’re going to include much more protection over the traditional music,” Yazzie said.