Navajo legislative leader faces indefinite leave over controversial photo

WINDOW ROCK, Ariz. (AP) — Navajo Nation Council Speaker Seth Damon is facing disciplinary action for being intoxicated during a family vacation in Las Vegas.

Navajo lawmaker Otto Tso introduced legislation Friday in the Tribal Council to place Damon on administrative leave without pay indefinitely. The council can take action on the bill after the five-day public comment period ends.

Damon is in his second, two-year term as head of the tribe’s legislative branch, one of three branches of the Navajo government. He presides over Tribal Council sessions and represents six Navajo communities in the Arizona portion of the reservation as a delegate on the 24-member council.

Damon was on a private vacation with his family in Nevada earlier this month when he was photographed slumped in a chair in front of a gambling machine.

Damon acknowledged wrongdoing and informed council delegates that he was intoxicated, according to public documents.

“Our leaders should be held accountable and I accept responsibility for this incident,” Damon said in a statement last week. “I made a mistake as an elected leader and it will not happen again. I send my apologies to the Navajo people and the communities I represent for any ill will or embarrassment this photograph caused.”

Damon “brought disrepute” to the tribe and “must still face the consequences and repercussions of his conduct,” the legislation reads.

Damon said in the statement that he will work with the council “to further discuss corrective actions in the best interest of the Navajo Nation to begin the healing of our Nation and myself.” No tribal funding was spent on the trip to attend the Indian National Finals Rodeo to support Navajo athletes, he said.

If the legislation to place Damon on leave is approved, the speaker’s position will be filled temporarily by the leaders of each standing committee of the Navajo Nation Council on a rotating basis until a new speaker is selected in January when new tribal leaders are seated.