Indianz.Com > News > New leadership named at New Mexico Indian Affairs Department
Santa Fe. New Mexico
Native artists display their works at the Palace of the Governors in Santa Fe, New Mexico, the state capital. Photo by Indianz.Com (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)
New leadership named at New Mexico Indian Affairs Department
Monday, January 22, 2024

The New Mexico Indian Affairs Department has entered the new year with new leadership following a controversial 2023.

Josett D. Monette, a citizen of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians, has been designated as Secretary of Indian Affairs. An attorney, she previously served as deputy secretary and general counsel for the department.

“I am stepping into this role with deep commitment, dedication, care, and a profound respect for our Nations, Tribes and Pueblos and their homelands here in New Mexico. Working for Indian Country is where my dedication lies.” Monette said in a news release from the governor’s office.

Monette succeeds James Mountain, a citizen of the Pueblo of San Ildefonso, in the cabinet-level position. The prior Secretary designate was never formally confirmed in 2023 following controversy over a sexual assault case in his past.

But Mountain isn’t going far. He will be serving as senior policy advisor for tribal affairs for Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D), who had supported his failed nomination as Secretary of Indian Affairs.

“Serving as the Cabinet Secretary for Gov. Lujan Grisham has been one of the greatest honors I have ever been asked to take on. The Governor has done nothing but uphold her promises and commitments to tribal leaders and our people by investing hundreds of millions of dollars in tribal infrastructure and Indian education, honoring tribal sovereignty and promoting self-determination,” Mountain said in the news release. “I am grateful and look forward to continuing to serve under her leadership in a new role for the administration, our tribes and New Mexico.”

With Monette elevated to Secretary, the deputy role at the New Mexico Indian Affairs Department is now being held by Seth Damon, a citizen of the Navajo Nation. He announced his resignation as a delegate on the Navajo Nation Council at a committee meeting last Wednesday.

“We have an opportunity to change lives. That’s what each one of us is doing here. We are here to make a better tomorrow for our people,” Damon said in a news release distributed by the council.

As a tribal lawmaker, Damon represented several communities on the New Mexico portion of the Navajo Nation. He also most recently served as Speaker of the Navajo Nation Council.

“Over the years, Speaker Damon has led many initiatives that benefit our Nation to this day. We are very grateful for his service to the Navajo people and we pray for his continued success as he serves the state of New Mexico and tribal nations,” said Speaker Crystalyne Curley. the current leaders of the tribe’s legislative branch.

Damon’s resignation from his council position takes effect on Monday. He was congratulated on his new appointment by Navajo Nation President Buu Nygren.

“Your appointment is very instrumental, not only here for Navajo, but for all Indigenous,” Nygren told Damon at the council committee meeting on January 27. “You have passionately dedicated your life to the council to help our Navajo people, the initiatives you championed throughout your term is commendable. Ahéhee and congratulations Speaker Damon.”

Nygren had opposed Mountain’s confirmation as Secretary of Indian Affairs. The Navajo Nation Council also passed a resolution against his confirmation, citing his past and his role in addressing the crisis of violence against Native women and Native people in the state.

During the council committee meeting, Damon said he expects to be sworn as deputy secretary at the New Mexico Indian Affairs Department on Tuesday. He also said he had previously been offered — but turned down — the senior policy advisor for tribal affairs in the state governor’s office.

“At the end of the day, it’s not about what we do here right now, it’s about what we can do in making sure our next seven generations have a better life,” Damon said at the meeting in Window Rock, Arizona, the capital of the Navajo Nation.

New Mexico is home to 19 Pueblo tribes, the Fort Sill Apache Tribe, the Jicarilla Apache Nation, the Navajo Nation and the Mescalero Apache Tribe.

Indianz.Com Audio: Seth Damon announces resignation from Navajo Nation Council for new role in New Mexico