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Navajo council speaker survives removal attempt

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. -- The speaker of the Navajo Nation Council, who is facing bribery and conspiracy charges, has survived an attempt to remove him from the post.

Tribal lawmakers were split almost evenly Tuesday, 12 to 11, on a bill to oust Johnny Naize as the legislative leader. The bill fell short of the 16 votes, or supermajority, required for approval.

Naize has denied wrongdoing in what prosecutors said was a scheme to divert public money to the families of tribal officials. He urged colleagues meeting in Window Rock for their winter session to adhere to the Navajo principle of kinship in respecting one another and remaining unified.

Naize told The Associated Press before the vote that whatever the outcome, "you have to forgive people. Whatever happens, you have to leave it in the past."

The council recessed for the day after the vote that had delegates debating scripture, due process, personal vendettas, integrity and the chain of events that led to Naize and others being charged in an investigation into the use of tribal discretionary funds. Naize, whose term ends in January 2015, reassumes his role Wednesday in presiding over the session.

Delegate Alton Joe Shepherd, who sponsored the legislation, said his intent was to preserve the integrity of the speaker's post and the image of the Tribal Council.

"This isn't a matter of due process," Shepherd said. "Due process is being afforded to Mr. Naize through a court of law."

Prosecutors said Naize conspired with several other current and former council delegates to divert more than $73,000 from the discretionary spending fund intended for student financial aid, people facing extreme hardship, assistance for elderly Navajo and other uses. They said Naize's family received $36,550 in exchange for his providing $36,900 to members of other families.

Naize is scheduled to be arraigned in March on 10 counts of bribery and a conspiracy charge.

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