Less than two hours before the 2022 legislative session began, the Senate welcomed Theresa Hatathlie as its newest member.
The Coconino County Board of Supervisors appointed Hatathlie, 52, to fill the District 7 Senate seat vacated last month by Sen. Jamescita Peshlakai, who resigned to take a job with the Biden administration at the U.S. Department of the Interior. Like Peshlakai, Hatathlie is Diné, a citizen of the Navajo Nation.
Arizona Supreme Court Chief Justice Robert Brutinel swore in Hatathlie at the Senate on Monday morning. Flanked by her older brother, Freddie Hatathlie, a retired master sergeant with the U.S. Army, Hatathlie took her oath on a collection of spiritually important items, including an eagle feather, a small arrowhead, corn pollen, a Navajo rug and a weaving tool.
“The concept of hard work is something that I’m no stranger to. And my mother raised me with these, weaving Navajo rugs,” Hatathlie told reporters after her swearing-in.
At the legislature, Hatathlie’s top priorities will be environmental preservation, safe drinking water, roads and transportation, public education, access to higher education and broadband internet access. She said she shares many of her predecessor’s priorities, and will seek to pass 32 bills that Peshlakai had previously sponsored.
“My priorities are from an Indigenous perspective, from a rural perspective,” Hatathlie said. “The challenges over there are you have a huge land base, so the infrastructure part of that I know is constantly a challenge. But in order to raise a nation of independent and self-reliant individuals (you need to make) sure that they have access to education, and those tools necessary to make sure they will attain what the major expectation of being successful.”
Hatathlie hails from Coal Mine Mesa, a Navajo-Hopi land dispute area, which was later renamed Coal Mine Canyon. She grew up with no electricity or running water, but with “miles of beautiful, pristine lands” that included acres of cornfields, squash, watermelons, apricots and peaches, as well as cows, horses and sheep.
“I never think that I grew up in a poor environment. No, I didn’t. I was very rich in cultural stories, cultural ways of providing for myself and never relying on somebody else to do the work for me. I think that’s very important. And many Indigenous cultures have that in their teachings,” she said.
Hatathlie serves as vice president of the Diné College Board of Regents, a position she hopes to keep, and co-founded Yee Ha’ólníi Do, the Navajo & Hopi Families COVID-19 Relief Fund, which provides food assistance, medical supplies, hand sanitizing stations, heating fuels and other assistance to Hopi and Navajo households. She and 11 other Indigenous women founded the organization in March 2020 at the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has hit Indigenous communities especially hard. Hatathlie is the logistics manager and legislative liaison for the organization.
But the mother of five adult children said her top responsibility is being a “being a domestic engineer. That’s near and dear to my heart, being a mother, being a wife and taking care of my family and my siblings.”
Hatathlie said she plans to run for a full term in the new District 6, which includes the Navajo Nation and other tribal communities in northern and eastern Arizona, along with most of Coconino County and parts of Flagstaff and the White Mountains.
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