New Navajo Leaders Sworn In, Vow to Support Entrepreneurs

Jonathan Nez stood with his wife, Phefelia Herbert-Nez, and their two sons while he took the oath of office on January 15, 2019, becoming the youngest Navajo Nation President at age 43. (Navajo Nation)

Diné citizens witnessed Jonathan Nez sworn in as the Navajo Nation’s new tribal president at yesterday’s inaugural ceremony. Myron Lizer, an entrepreneur and owner of the Navajo Westerners Ace Hardware Stores and Lumber Yards, among other businesses, took the oath as Vice President.

In a powerful and inspiring inaugural address, delivered in the Diné language and in English, President Nez shared a vision of unity, hope and resilience. He also emphasized the need for positive change within the Navajo government, highlighting fiscal responsibility—particularly in light of a potential, substantial reduction in annual revenue in 2019. (If the Navajo Generating Station and its supply mine close in December, the Nation may confront a loss of about $40 million in annual revenue, and hundreds of jobs held by Diné people. A Navajo energy company is considering the purchase of the coal-fire plant and Kayenta Mine, a decision ultimately influenced by the Council.)

Change, Nez said, should be embraced.

“Change presents opportunity – the opportunity to work together to strengthen and empower ourselves as individuals and as communities. Along the way, we talked with many elderly, youth, single parents, working families, students, and many others seeking the change that we all deserve and desire,” said President Nez. “What I saw was hope. Despite the many challenges we face, our people still have hope – a hope for a better tomorrow for all of us as Diné people!” 

President Nez’s message also underscored his desire to cultivate and inspire individual empowerment and entrepreneurship across the Navajo Nation. President Nez and Vice President Lizer vowed to support Navajo entrepreneurs and Navajo-owned businesses.

Vice President Lizer spoke specifically to supporting small business development:

“As a business person, I want to help our Diné entrepreneurs who are working hard to create economic opportunities through their own ingenuity, creativity, and dedication. Historically, our people have proven to be self-sufficient and self-sustaining and today, many of our young Navajo people are striving to carry that forward by developing businesses and by testing the limits of their potential. As Vice President, I will make it a priority to help our small business owners and entrepreneurs,” stated Vice President Lizer. 

Lizer added that he’s a strong advocate for “Buy Navajo, Buy Local,” and challenged Navajo people to commit to buying locally—particularly during the week of Navajo Sovereignty Day in the month of April.

“The Navajo people are an economic giant,” stated Vice President Lizer. “We are an economic force when you look at the amount of dollars that we pour into border towns outside of the Navajo Nation. We need to change that mindset and support our Navajo entrepreneurs! Come the week of April 22nd, as our Nation recognizes Navajo Sovereignty Day, let us all be challenged to resist the long trips to our nearest border towns and commit to staying home and deliberately making all purchases locally!”

Together, President Nez and Vice President Lizer will lead the nation’s largest Native American reservation for the next four years. Nez said of their campaign:

“Our team ran a grassroots campaign in which we welcomed and embraced our people from every corner of our great Nation and beyond. We met many people with unique perspectives who brought a wide variety of matters to our attention, but it was apparent that they had one common notion in mind when it came to our Nation’s leadership and our Nation’s government – the need for change. I believe that’s why we see so many new faces among the leaders who took the oath of office with us today,” said President Nez. 

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