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Navajo Nation Tribal Code

Navajo Tribal Code vs. Navajo Constitution
The Navajo Nation Council rejected a constitution for its government three times resulting in a Navajo Tribal Code.

In 1935, Navajos declined to accept the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934 which would have allowed the Navajo Tribe the right to reorganize along constitutional lines. In place of a tribal constitution, the Interior Secretary approved a limited set of "rules" for the Navajo Tribal Council written by the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, John Collier. These rules still provide the framework of the Navajo Tribal government. Since its beginning, many new laws have been made by the tribal council and its advisory committee.

In 1962, the Navajo Tribal Code was consolidated with all the old tribal resolutions and federal laws and arranged into two volumes. The volumes eventually expanded with each new approved Navajo Tribal Council's resolution. They included the Navajo Bill of Rights, tribal governmental structure and powers, qualifications for tribal membership, election laws, fiscal matters, business and commercial activities, land use and natural resource matters, law and order matters, and so on.

Navajo Tribal Code Authority
The Navajo people do not have authority over the Navajo Tribal Code since they didn't establish the government. The unwritten Navajo customs and traditions may play an important and limited role in Navajo government but should be considered when interpreting the Navajo Tribal Code.

The clause in "Rules" regarding no statement of powers which the Tribal Council was authorized to exercise on behalf of the Navajo people needs to be emphasized because it means the Navajo Tribal Council's powers are not defined and aren't limited, however, it's not entirely free from constraints.

Why is there a Navajo Tribal Code instead of a Constitution?
When the Navajo people first voted against the 1934 Indian Reorganization Act, they did so believing that it would end Collier's "Livestock Reduction Program". Conflicting political reports from the government and tribal leaders confused the Navajos about establishing a tribal constitution. Instead, the issue was lost in the confusion.

In 1950, the constitutional question arose a second time when the Navajo-Hopi Rehabilitation Act included a provision that the Navajo Tribe may adopt a constitution. A draft was written and sent to the Secretary of the Interior in 1953.

During the same time, there was a debate between the Navajo Tribe and the Secretary of Interior regarding business partnerships with energy companies. The Navajo Tribe wanted to take advantage of oil and gas development on the reservation. They introduced a bill to allow the council to begin the process. Even though the Federal Government strongly supported the end of a federal Indian policy called "Termination", the federal government refused to grant Navajos the freedom to develop their mineral resources. The Tribal Council shelved the constitution again.

Raymond Nakai, Navajo Tribal Chairman from 1963-70, reintroduced the constitutional issue during his administration. One of his pledges was to adopt a constitution. A draft was made and submitted to the Tribal Council on November 14, 1968. The Tribal Council approved it but never put it before the people for ratification.

Section 6 of the Navajo-Hopi Rehabilitation Act authorized the Navajo tribe to adopt a constitution. This provision is still applicable today, although no major push to adopt a constitution has been made since 1968. Some of the reasons made by the Council are as follows:

1. They felt that the constitution would define some limit to their powers.

2. They may solely exercise all sovereign powers currently vested in them.

3. Constitutional provisions would require that some council actions be taken to the people for approval.

4. That it would be too time-consuming and expensive to involve the Navajo people in direct participation on certain tribal resolutions.

The Secretary of Interior must approve all tribal constitutions and can veto many tribal laws. This power of the Secretary is commonly referred to as "Secretarial Review".

Navajo Nation Code


From: Navajo Nation 1997 Close-Up Program, Navajo Nation Division of Education, Window Rock, Navajo Nation.


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