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Navajo Nation president denies alleged sexual misconduct

Navajo Nation President Buu Nygren, pictured in 2022, denied sexual harassment allegations by his vice president on Tuesday. Gino Gutierrez/Source NM, File
Navajo Nation President Buu Nygren addressed the allegations that Vice President Richelle Montoya said he sexually harassed her last year

On Tuesday, Navajo Nation President Buu Nygren spoke for the first time about sexual harassment allegations by his vice president that became public last month. He denied any wrongdoing and said accusations are not true.

Vice President Richelle Montoya said in April that she was harassed and bullied last August, but did not name the alleged perpetrator. Nygren confirmed at a press conference he is the accused. Montoya said the incident took place during a meeting in Nygren’s office last August.

Following the incident, Montoya wrote a statement detailing what happened. She later talked about the incident on a Facebook live video in April.

“I was made to feel that I had no power to leave the room. I was made to feel that what I was trying to accomplish didn’t mean anything that I was less than,” she said.

She said in her statement that Nygren refused to let her leave the office and that she asked four times.

Montoya had recently separated from her husband, Olsen Chee, and she said Nygren told her to let him know if she becomes serious with another person in the future. He then hugged her before she left.

Nygren admits to giving her a side hug but in the Navajo spirit of K’é, meaning compassion and kindness.

“We have always embraced and addressed each other in the spirit of K’é as Nali (grandma),” he said. “She is my Nali by clan, she has never suggested to me that this gesture is in any way unwelcome or offensive to her.”

He said this incident has been taken out of context.

“I’m deeply offended that I have been shamelessly slandered about this meeting. This has led to unnecessary confusion,” he said.

He said that during that meeting, he was offering her a moment of support in the recent news of her divorce.

“I assured the vice president that I would be equally transparent with her about any challenges in my own life. I believe the president and vice president must support each other, and I wanted to extend that support,” he said.

Montoya said in her Facebook Live that when she was asked by a staff member what she wanted from filing this claim she replied: “I did not want to be alone with this person ever. And that I don’t want him to talk to me, or apologize or try to explain it, or anything.”

Montoya expressed that it was hard to come out with this claim but she said it was important.

“To show my daughters, to show my granddaughters that yes, bad things happen,” she said. “But you gotta tell somebody, you got to try and come up with solutions.”

Ethel Branch, attorney general for the Navajo Nation, is currently conducting an investigation into the allegations to determine if there have been any legal violations.

KUNM has reached out to Montoya, but she did not offer a comment.

Despite Nygren’s denial regarding the allegations, he said he’s committed to strengthening protections for Navajo employees. He said he’s implementing a workplace safety policy. He also wants the Navajo Nation Council to strengthen laws to define unacceptable behavior and also give employees a year to file claims.

Support for this coverage comes from the Thornburg Foundation.

Source NM is an independent, nonprofit news organization that shines a light on governments, policies and public officials.