LEUPP, Ariz. — Though snow clouds swirled around the San Francisco Peaks in the distance, the first-ever Navajo Women Warriors Day celebration event took place here on the first day of spring at Twin Arrows.
The packed agenda included the posting of the colors by the Diné Sáanii Siláołtsooíi Color Guard and the National Anthem sung in Navajo by young Kylei McCurtain. Following an introduction by Miss Navajo Nation Valentina Clitso, Navajo Nation First Lady Jasmine Blackwater-Nygren provided the welcome address.
“Navajo women have been serving in the U.S. military service, going back to World War I and World War II,” she said. “In World War II, we recognize that women were serving as nurses, truck drivers, administrative and other supportive roles.”
First Lady Blackwater-Nygren said many Navajo women today are serving in the military in combative roles. In her role as Arizona state representative, she recalled honoring Pvt. Jordan Peshlakai who was the first Navajo woman to graduate from the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego, Calif., in 2021. “As Diné people, our women have always been warriors,” she said.
“When I recognize the veterans in this room, I am in awe, and I thank you, so much, each and every one of you for what you’ve done, for what you’ve contributed to this country,” she said.
Navajo Nation Office of the President and Vice President Executive Staff Assistant Olin Kieyoomia, a U.S. Army veteran who leads veterans issues within the president’s office, provided a message from Navajo Nation President Buu Nygren.
“Thank you for your service on behalf of the president,” he said. “They’re up at Washington, D.C., at the Supreme Court on the very necessities you have fought for and protected—our water rights.”
The effort to establish the official day of recognition began prior to 2017, he said. In those planning discussions, he said the decision was made to put it on a special day, the first day of spring in representation of the sacred role women hold in Navajo society.
“There’s a lot that the women did that they are not recognized for today,” he said.
CiCi Baker, a U.S. Navy and U.S. Army veteran, presented a special recognition of U.S. Marine Corps veteran Matejka Baumgardner. During her service from 1999 until her honorable discharge in 2003, she was awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal, the Marine Corps Good Conduct Medal, the National Defense Service Medal, the Global War on Terrorism Medal, the Iraq Campaign Medal with two Bronze Campaign Stars and more. SSG Baumgardner grew up in Thoreau, New Mexico, on the Navajo Nation.
The late Sergeant Lillian Lujan, who served in the U.S. Women’s Army Corps from 1943 to 1945, was also honored at the event. President Nygren earlier this month proclaimed March 10, 2023, as Lillian Lujan Day in her honor.
Angela Barney-Nez, a U.S. Army veteran, presented a history of Navajo women that took part in military service during war and peace time.
“Women like Lillian Lujan, World War 2 veteran, 104 years old,” she said. “She went to war. These are World War 2 veterans, they are war veterans.”
She said the service of women who served during the wars was not recognized until their sacrifices could not be ignored. She said she and a group of Navajo women veterans began their work towards honoring women who served began to pick up in the early 1990s. Part of that was the experience at the 1993 dedication of the Vietnam Women’s Memorial on the National Mall, which she attended with several Navajo women veterans.
Barney-Nez also recognized Mary T. Coho, the first female director of the Navajo veterans administration and member of the Diné Sáanii Siláołtsooíi Color Guard, who was appointed by Navajo Tribal Chairman Peter MacDonald in the 1980s.
Recognition of the current executive director of the Navajo Nation Veterans Administration, Bobbie Ann Baldwin, was given by both Barney-Nez and First Lady Blackwater-Nygren. The Navajo Nation Veterans Advisory Council commanders were also recognized.
The Navajo Women Warriors Day of recognition and celebration was established in April 2022 through Navajo Nation Council Resolution No. CAP-24-22 to take place annually on the first day of spring.