Navajos cancel legislative session amid coronavirus outbreak

April 18, 2020 GMT

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. (AP) — The Navajo Nation has canceled its spring legislative session amid an outbreak of coronavirus that has kept lawmakers away from the tribal capital.

Lawmakers calling in remotely Friday approved the legislation during a special session. The legislative branch cited the difficulty in getting everyone who plays a part in the session, including the 24 lawmakers, support staff, attorneys, and heads of tribal offices, to participate from afar.

Byron Shorty, a spokesman for the council, said a regular legislative session hasn’t been canceled in decades.

The Navajo Nation Council usually gathers quarterly in Window Rock for weeklong sessions. The spring session was scheduled to start Monday.

Lawmakers on Friday also approved bills to provide $250,000 for burial assistance and to give $121,000 to the Office of the Speaker for supplies, communication, utilities and outreach. Another bill would create a fund to take in donations for the coronavirus response.

Tribal President Jonathan Nez has 10 days to act on the legislation once he receives it. He warned lawmakers this week of possible vetoes on spending measures.

“We have to be good stewards of our resources and of our own money,” he said Thursday. “I’m sure that hurts. If you don’t want a veto, don’t let it come to our desks because we are taking care of Navajo people’s money for the future.”

The Navajo Nation has been hit harder by the coronavirus than any other Native American tribe. As of Friday, it had 1,127 cases among the 175,000 residents of the vast reservation that extends into New Mexico, Arizona and Utah. Deaths total 44.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death. The vast majority of people recover.

Residents of the Navajo Nation, including non-tribal members, are under a daily nighttime curfew. Lockdowns for the next two weekends will prevent them from leaving their homes, except in the case of an emergency, from dusk Friday until early Monday.

Drive-thru restaurants were ordered closed over the weekend, and people who sell hay, wood, food or other goods from the roadside cannot operate. Gas stations and grocery stores will be open but for limited hours and must regulate the number of people inside.

Navajo police are enforcing the curfews and lockdown by issuing citations that can carry a fine of up to $1,000 and 30 days in jail. Essential workers are not subject to the restrictions.

Among other developments regarding the Navajo Nation:

—The Navajo Tribal Utility Authority has postponed a project to connect 300 families to the electric grid for the first time. Nearly 40 utilities from 15 states had volunteered for the project.

—The City of Albuquerque asked its residents to consider donating non-perishable food to the Navajo community of To’hajiilee, which lies west of the New Mexico city.