Navajo Nation Leader Gets Flak For Boozy Las Vegas Casino Snap

Navajo Nation Speaker Seth Damon is in hot water. The tribal leader was photographed at an unnamed Las Vegas casino earlier this month, apparently intoxicated, slumped across a slot machine.

Seth Damon
Seth Damon
Seth Damon has offended Navajo sensibilities by getting wasted in Las Vegas. Despite reservation-wide prohibition, alcoholism remains a problem in the Nation. (Image: Navajo Nation Council)

While that’s never a good look, let alone for a politician, it’s a particular sore point for the Nation, which owns four casinos on its 25,000-square-mile reservation in Arizona and New Mexico.

Alcohol is banned on the Navajo reservation as part of the Navajo Code and the laws of the Diné, which recognizes four specific constituent elements: traditional law, customary law, natural law, and common law.

In fact, its four casinos — the Flowing Edge, the Fire Rock, the Northern Edge, and the Twin Arrows — are the only locations on the reservation where liquor can be legally purchased.

Prohibition on Tribal Lands

A New York Times article from 1985 reported that alcoholism was “destroying” the Navajo Nation. New Mexico’s Alcohol Beverage Control director called the situation a “national disgrace.”

Alcoholism remains a problem among the Navajo, fueled by bootleg operations and liquor sales at border towns.

Damon is the highest-ranking leader on the Navajo Nation Council. He apologized for what he called an “unauthorized photograph” which was taken during a private family vacation to Las Vegas to support the Navajo cowboys and cowgirls at the Indian National Finals Rodeo.

“Our leaders should be held accountable, and I accept responsibility for this incident,” Damon said in a statement. “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.”

What Happens in Vegas…

The Council met to discuss the matter on Friday and later that evening filed legislation to place Damon on administrative leave without pay.

“When the members of the Navajo Nation Council select and confirm their Speaker, they do so with the expectation that the selected Speaker can be trusted to be their Natahnii’’ [leader] and lead the Council by example with honor, integrity, veracity and reliability at all times. They do not expect their leader, the Speaker, to violate their trust and bring disrepute on the Council,” stated the legislation.

The Council acknowledged that Damon had complied with Navajo fundamental law by accepting personal responsibility for his actions and by issuing a public apology to the Navajo people. But he must still face the consequences, it added.

After much deliberation and discussion with Speaker Damon, the Navajo Nation Council has determined that placing Speaker Damon on administrative leave without pay for an indeterminate time is the appropriate path to restore Hozho within the Navajo Nation Council and with the Navajo People,” the Council concluded.

The Nation appears to have some clout with big tech companies. As of Monday, the offending image seems to have been wiped off social media.

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