Navajo lawmakers to consider medal to honor tribe’s veterans

By Felicia Fonseca
Associated Press Writer 4-08

The leader of the Navajo Nation Council wants to recognize all honorably discharged Navajo veterans with a special medal adorned with bow and arrows and geometric shapes that represent tribal ceremonies performed on warriors returning from battle.

The Dine Nation Medal of Honor would be similar to the Medal of Honor but with a different meaning, Council Speaker Lawrence Morgan said.

“This medal is something that our Navajo veterans can have as an appreciation long into the future,” Morgan said.

But some Navajo veterans say the medal would be a waste of money and would belittle the United States’ highest award for valor in military action.

“We got veterans with a lot of needs. What good is another medal going to do us, a medal we can’t wear on our uniforms, a medal that is not honored by the U.S. government?” said Leon Curley, a former Marine who heads a veterans group at the tribe’s Church Rock Chapter.

The cost of the medals hasn’t been determined, nor has the number that will be made. That will be up to council delegates, who will vote next week during their summer session in Window Rock, Ariz., to approve the process by which the medals would be awarded.

Under Morgan’s bill, any of the tribe’s 110 chapter houses could nominate a veteran for the medal. Morgan would review each nomination before forwarding any recommendations to the full council.

Leila Help-Tulley, a staff assistant in Morgan’s office, said no input was sought from veterans before the medal was designed.

Legislative attorney Tamsen Holm said in a memo to Morgan that he is not legally required to seek veterans’ opinions, but she encouraged him to speak with veterans if the council truly wants to honor them.

Morgan was part of a committee that selected Sheldon Preston of Tuba City, Ariz., to design the medal and paid him $70,000. The design was unveiled last month.

A spokesman for Morgan, Joshua Lavar Butler, said most of the veterans’ organizations and agencies voted against the medal, but that was before they were informed of its purpose.

“After the unveiling of the medallion, several critics expressed their appreciation for the beautiful design – a design that encompasses our Navajo culture,” he said.

The medal’s name is another issue. Holm said delegates should consider changing it to avoid any perception that the tribe might be imitating the Medal of Honor. The use of the phrase “Dine Nation” also might need to be reconsidered because the tribe requires “Navajo Nation” be used to describe its people and land, and the term could cause some confusion over the medal’s governmental source of origin.

Curley said many veterans simply don’t want the medal.

He reached into his closet and pulled out a medal of valor he said he received from the Navajo Nation last year for serving in the U.S. military. “For service and defense of our land and people,” it reads.

“All these medals the tribe is giving us, nobody wears them,” he said. “They throw them in the closet. It’s another one of those ‘time for election’ deals.”

Curley suggested the money for the medals would be better spent on renovating veterans’ homes, transporting them to doctors’ appointments and basic needs such as electricity, water and gas.

“To us, to military veterans, it’s a slap in the face to the people that actually deserve it, actually earn the medal,” he said.