After considerable networking and revisions to the 2008 legislation—which retained the same wording protecting the traditional use of ceremonial nát'oh—the Navajo Nation Commercial Tobacco-Free Act of 2009 was assigned a tracking number (legislation number 0312-09) by the Navajo Nation Legislative Service.Assignment of a tracking number is the first step towards introducing a bill for consideration by the Council.
These efforts were instrumental in facilitating adoption of the Navajo Nation Commercial Tobacco-Free Act of 2008 by the 21st Navajo Nation Council in July 2008.
Shortly after this historical vote, a (a Navajo Nation owned newspaper) headline read ‘Smoking ban prompts 40% cut in casino jobs’ (figure 1).27 Following this negative publicity and pressure from the Navajo Nation Gaming Enterprise (NNGE), an organisation established in 2006 to develop and oversee gaming venues, the Navajo Nation Commercial Tobacco-Free Act of 2008 was vetoed by Navajo Nation President Joe Shirley, Jr.28 In his veto message, President Shirley stated, ‘The law is ambiguous about the type of tobacco which would be allowable for use in bona fide religious ceremonies.
Results It has been essential that proposed policies acknowledge the Navajo people's spiritual use of nát'oh, a sacred plant used for gift-giving, medicinal purposes and traditional ceremonies, while simultaneously discouraging a secular use of commercial tobacco.
Concern that smoke-free policies economically harm tribal casinos has been a major barrier to broad implementation of comprehensive smoke-free laws in Navajo Nation.
The Navajo Nation institutionalized an approach to protecting members of the nation when it took over Institutional Review Board (IRB) responsibilities from the US Indian Health Service (IHS) in 1996.
While written regulations for the Navajo Nation IRB are not dissimilar, and in some ways are less detailed than those of the IHS IRB, in practice the Navajo Nation allows less flexibility.The legislative branch is comprised of a 24-member council, representing 110 chapter houses or communities.With 300 000 enrolled tribal members, the Navajo Nation is the second largest tribe in terms of population.1 Because of its high unemployment rate (43%),2 the Navajo Nation began to explore gaming as a form of economic development in the late 1990s and the Navajo people approved gaming in a 2004 referendum.According to statistics provided by the Navajo Nation Gaming Enterprise, we can expect a 20% reduction of project revenues.This means, essentially, that Navajo jobs will be cut, the Enterprise will default on the loan with the Nation, and the ability to seek outside financing from the other lending institutions is very unlikely, all of which would prohibit the development of additional gaming establishments’.29 An attempt to override the President's veto was unsuccessful.Commercial tobacco disrespects the Navajo fundamental traditions. There are protocols and a process involved and the idea behind that now is to educate people about the traditional uses of nát'oh’.26As radio is the primary source of communication to the Navajo people, Team Navajo conducted multiple radio forums to discuss the proposed legislation.Commercial tobacco abuses our people and harms our environment resulting in disharmony with the body and the earth. In addition, Team Navajo created and distributed booklets that highlighted studies on the null economic effect from implementation of smoke-free policies in casinos.However, tribes have the authority to adopt laws that regulate smoking on tribal lands, including tribal casinos.8 While the states of Arizona, Utah and New Mexico implemented comprehensive smoke-free laws between 20,9 the Navajo Nation and most tribes have not adopted similar written comprehensive smoke-free policies.10Because of the unique relation, the Navajo people have with nát'oh, a sacred plant used for gift-giving, medicinal purposes and traditional ceremonies, any educational and policy efforts on commercial tobacco use on the Navajo Nation are approached in a cultural context that reflects the role of nát'oh.11 12 In recent decades, though, nát'oh is increasingly replaced by, or used in combination with, commercial tobacco within ceremonial practices.This use of commercial tobacco is a topic of discussion and controversy among Navajo ceremonial healers and community members. Today, Navajo Nation is faced with a dilemma not found in cultures that do not have a sacred connection with tobacco: how to maintain the use of nát'oh that promotes spiritual growth and harmony, while discouraging secular uses of commercial tobacco.Navajo Nation is the largest geographic land-based Indian reservation in the USA, covering 27 000 square miles of New Mexico, Arizona and Utah.Navajo Nation maintains a three-branch government system consisting of executive, legislative and judicial branches.