First Department of Medical Examiners on Navajo Nation to be Created

Published January 11, 2019

WINDOW ROCK — On Saturday, Jan. 5, President Russell Begaye signed into law a plan of operation to create the first Department of Medical Examiners on the Navajo Nation.

The law amends Title 17, Sections 1851 through 1854, by deleting coroner provisions and creating the Department of Medical Examiners under the Executive Branch within the Division of Public Safety.

The Department of Medical Examiners will be responsible for general investigations of deaths, notification and reporting of deaths, exhumations for death investigations, as well as records and reports.

“As a nation, it’s important to have full authority over investigations into deaths. By establishing this department, the Nation is addressing efficiency in taking possession of the deceased, determining causes of death and issuing related documents,” President Begaye said. “More importantly, the department will conduct all medicolegal investigations in a culturally sensitive manner.”

Previous to establishing the Department of Medical Examiners, the Navajo Nation president appointed coroners within each police district for the purpose of investigating deaths. Coroners who were not physicians bore the responsibility of finding physicians to accompany them.

“Before my political career, I served as an emergency transport technician and there were times when we had to wait for certain authorities and examiners to be on scene before we could process the bodies. Sometimes this coordination caused prolonged investigations,” President Begaye said. “The Navajo Nation needs to control of every aspect of death investigations from determinations to issuance of death certificates. Now, we will.”

Upon signature, the Law and Order Committee has 30 days to approve the plan of operation for the Navajo Nation Department of Medical Examiners.

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