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Making History

Crystalyne Curley is the first female Speaker of the Navajo Nation Council.

A woman speaks into a microphone at a podium.

Gage Skidmore (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Crystalyne Curley just made history by getting elected to a powerful position in the government of the Navajo Nation. Now, she wants to use her influence to help enrich people’s lives.

In January 2023, Curley was elected Speaker of the Navajo Nation Council, which is the legislative (lawmaking) branch of the Navajo government. The Council is made up of 24 delegates who represent the people living in different areas of the Navajo reservation. Curley was elected to her first term in the Council in 2022. She became Speaker after a vote within the Council. This makes her a leader within the Council. Curley appoints delegates to committees, calls special sessions, makes budget recommendations, and more. 

Curley has been in the public eye for a long time. She first ran for the Council several years ago. Previously, she was senior public information officer for former Navajo Nation president Jonathan Nez.

As Speaker, Curley wants to improve the quality of life on the Navajo reservation, where many people lack basic resources. American Indian groups say the lack of resources is due partly to U.S. government rules that make it difficult for American Indian communities to make improvements. Curley has firsthand experience with need.

“I’m one of the products of no electricity [and] no water, and to this day I still don’t have cell service within my home, and it’s these troubles that some of the leaders don’t know the struggle of,” Curley told AZ Central. “I wanted to use my platform to speak for those who live far off the highway, that live in the rural parts of our nation.”

Curley, who speaks the Navajo language, also wants to make sure that Navajo history is respected and preserved.

“We have to use our Navajo language, our culture,” Curley said. “That’s what drives me, is fundamentals of our values and our culture and our language. We need to teach that to our Navajo children to continue to speak our language.”

Did You Know?

Different tribal flags flash on and off the screen.

yfpro/; Animation Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.

The Navajo Nation is one of 573 tribal governments in the United States. Tribal governments have sovereignty, or the right to self-govern. In many ways, tribal governments are similar to state governments. They have the power to establish their own government structures, make their own laws, build roads, run schools, and more. Like state governments, tribal governments are subject to oversight by the U.S. government and are required to follow many U.S. laws.


March is Women’s History Month. To celebrate, we’re highlighting just a few remarkable women. You can learn more about all of them—and many more—at Britannica School.

Ada Lovelace (1815–1852).

A mathematician at a time when most women had few educational opportunities, Lovelace invented a program for an early prototype of a computer. In fact, she’s often called the first computer programmer.

Carl H. Pforzheimer Collection of Shelley and His Circle/From The New York Public Library Digital Collection

Edmonia Lewis (1844–1907).

Born in New York to a Black man and a woman of African and Ojibwa heritage, Lewis studied art at Oberlin College during the Civil War. Her marble sculptures highlight the stories of Black Americans and those who championed their freedom.

Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Prints and Photographs Division/New York Public Library Digital Collection

Jane Addams (1860–1935).

A firm supporter of women’s suffrage (women’s right to vote) and workers’ rights, Addams is best known as the founder of Hull House in Chicago, Illinois. Hull House provided services to immigrants, including educational opportunities and social programs.

National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.; partial gift of Mrs. Nancy Pierce York and Mrs. Grace Pierce Forbes (object no. NPG.78.48)

Alice Wong (born in 1974).

Alice Wong was born with a condition called spinal muscular atrophy, which damages nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord over time. Her own experiences sparked an interest in fighting for the rights of people with disabilities. Today, she is the founder and director of the Disability Visibility Project. The organization works to increase representation of people with disabilities in the media.

© Eddie Hernandez

There’s more to explore. Check out the July 19, 2022, edition of “In the News!” to read about women who paved the way for equal rights in the United States.

A Rich History

Animated GIF showing people, artifacts, lifestyle, and crafts of the Navajo culture

© grandriver—E+, CoolPhotography—iStock/Getty Images, From “Fifth Annual Report of the Bureau of Ethnology to the Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution” 1880, © Feije Riemersma, Reid Dalland, Anna Krivitskaia, Mickem, George Burba/, © enrico113/; Animation Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.

Crystalyne Curley holds a leadership position in the government of the Navajo Nation. The Navajo people have a long and rich history. They were in the southwestern part of what’s now the United States long before Europeans arrived in North America. You can read more about the Navajo people at Britannica School.

Find out at Britannica School!






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