The Navajo Nation Water Rights Commission (NNWRC) (herein after “the Commission”) was established in 2002 by the Navajo Nation Council (CAP-39-02). The purpose of the Commission is to ensure that the water rights of the Navajo Nation are vigorously pursued, and effectively coordinated, through an enhanced communication strategy on behalf of the Navajo Nation. The Commission’s Plan of Operation spells out its authorities; Article 8 includes the following authorities:

“To serve as the principal point of contact for the Navajo Nation and all media, public relations, and public education efforts regarding water rights and shall coordinate all public statements on these issues.” (Section 8.A.3)

“To enhance communication among the appropriate Navajo Nation divisions, departments, programs, chapters, agencies, and the Navajo public on water rights issues by producing periodic newsletters, creating videos, hosting conferences, making radio appearances, attending meetings of Navajo Nation entities such as farm boards, conducting other appropriate public outreach, fostering immediate use of wet water and other action to preserve or enhance Navajo Nation Water Rights Claim.” (Section 8.A.8)

“To conduct public meetings to seek and receive input from the Navajo public on water rights issues.” (Section 8.A.9)


The Commission is comprised of representatives from five Navajo agencies, the Attorney General, who represents the Navajo Nation Department of Justice (DOJ) Water Rights Unit, and the Director of the Navajo Nation Department of Water Resources who represents the Water Management Branch. Many of the staff under the Department of Water Resources and the DOJ have been working together for many years. According to a former Commissioner, “There is good camaraderie among the Commission, Water Resources Department, and the Navajo Nation DOJ Water Rights Unit.” The current commissioners' profiles are provided below. 




Joelynn M. Ashley is an enrolled member of the Navajo Nation from Coppermine (Béésh haagééd), Arizona. Her clans are Kiis’áaníí and Ta’neeszahnii. She is a graduate of Northern Arizona University, earning multiple degrees in Bachelor of Science in Political Science, Graduate Certificate in Public Management, Masters in Public Administration, and Masters in Administration. Ms. Ashley is currently in pursuit of completing her PhD through the Department of Politics and International Affairs, Northern Arizona University. She was appointed by Madam Chief Justice JoAnne B. Jayne. Ms. Ashley has worked on Federal Indian Water Rights as a tribal consultant, scholar and instructor for the last 20 years, and in addition to working as former Navajo Nation Division Director Division of General Services, Adjunct Faculty at Northern Arizona University and continues to devote her time in Indian Country to establish, as a permanent homeland by protecting, enacting and developing a tribal sovereigns right to safe drinking water.

Western Agency Chapters (18): Birdsprings/Tsidii To'ii, Bodaway-Gap, Cameron, Chilchinbeto, Coalmine Canyon, Coppermine, Dennehotso,  Kaibeto/Kai' Bii To, Kayenta, LeChee, Leupp, Navajo Mountain, Oljato, Shonto, To' Nanees' Dizi', Tolani Lake, Tonalea/Red Lake, Ts'ah Bii Kin/Inscription Hse




Chinle Agency Chapters (15): Black Mesa-(Kits'iili), Blue Gap-Tachee, Chinle, Forest Lake, Hardrock, Lukachukai, Many Farms, Nazlini, Pinon, Rough Rock/Tse Ch' Izhi, Round Rock, Tsaile-Wheatfields, Tselani-Cottonwood, Whippoorwill




Lani Tsinnajinnie is an enrolled member of the Navajo Nation from Na'Neelzhiin, NM. She is currently an Assistant Professor in the Community and Regional Planning Department at the University of New Mexico where she focuses on watershed planning, mountain hydrology, and impacts of climate change in semiarid regions. She received her Ph.D. in Hydrology from New Mexico Tech in 2019 and has a Master of Water Resources degree from the University of New Mexico.

Eastern Agency Chapters (31): Alamo, Baahaali (Breadsprings), Baca-Prewitt, Becenti, Casamero Lake, Chichiltah, Churchrock, Counselor, Crownpoint, Huerfano, Iyanbito, Littlewater, Manuelito, Mariano Lake, Nageezi, Nahodishgish, Ojo Encino, Pinedale, Pueblo Pintado, Pinedale, Ramah, Red Rock/Tse' Lichii', Rock Springs, Smith Lake, Standing Rock-Tse'Ii'Ahi', Thoreau, To' Hajiilee, Torreon/Star Lake, Tsayatoh, Whitehorse Lake, Whiterock




Fort Defiance Agency Chapters (26): Cornfields, Coyote Canyon, Crystal, Dilkon, Fort Defiance, Ganado, Greasewood Springs, Houck, Indian Wells, Jeddito, Kinlichee (Kin Dah Lichii), Klagetoh, Lupton (Tse Si Ani), Mexican Springs, Nahata Dziil Commission Governance, Naschitti, Oak Springs, Red Lake #18, Sawmill, St. Michael, Steamboat, Teesto, Tohatchi, Twin Lakes/Bahastl' ah', Whitecone, Wide Ruins




Northern Agency Chapters (20): Aneth, Beclabito, Cove, Gadii ahi/To' Koi, Mexican Water, Nenahnezad, Newcomb/Tiis Nideeshgish, Red Mesa, Red Valley, San Juan, Shiprock, T'iis Toh Sikaad, Teecnospos, Toadlena/TwoGreyHills, Tolikan, Toohaltsooi, Tse Alnaozt'ii, Tse'Daa Kaan, Upper Fruitland




Most recently Ethel Co-Founded and served as the Executive Director of Yee Ha’ólníi Doo, which does business as the Navajo & Hopi Families COVID-19 Relief Fund. In March 2020 she mobilized a crowdfunding effort to bring COVID relief to Navajo and Hopi reservation-based families. The effort became a top 5 GoFundMe campaign.

Her team provided COVID relief to almost half a million Navajo and Hopi people and opened community centers in Monument Valley (Navajo Nation) and Sheep Springs (Navajo Nation) focused on making Navajo communities pandemic proof for the long term by rebuilding local Navajo food, social, and small business economies and ensuring language and culture transmission to the next generation. Ethel was recognized as one of the 7 unsung heroes of the pandemic by Bill Gates.

As the Navajo Nation's 11th Attorney General, Ethel worked on a broad range of issues that impact Indian Nations. Specifically, she

  • Directly oversaw and coordinated the legal and public relations work associated with the Navajo Nation’s response to the Gold King Mine Spill, Wells Fargo’s unfair business practices on the Nation, President Trump’s attempted revocation and replacement of the Bears Ears National Monument, and abuses by opioids manufacturers and distributors to tribal members.
  • Defended the voting rights of Navajo citizens in state and local elections.
  • Provided guidance and leadership to a litigation team that prevailed in opposing certiorari petitions to the U.S. Supreme Court in two significant Indian law cases.
  • Secured positive rulings in numerous federal courts of appeal and district court cases.
  • Developed documents, delivered a rating agency presentation, and marketed bonds to investors for the Nation’s first Limited Public Offering.
  • Led the effort to strengthen the Nation’s public safety system through better coordination of limited resources and elimination of administrative barriers through reform of the Nation’s Criminal Code and Rules of Criminal Procedure.
  • Launched and oversaw the Nation’s Public Integrity Task Force that focused on developing partnerships, processes, and law and policy changes to allow the Nation to respond more quickly and effectively to reports of white-collar crime and corruption.

Before becoming the Nation's 11th Attorney General, Ethel worked for a private law firm representing Indigenous Nations in sovereign-to-sovereign negotiations and high stakes litigation.

Before that she worked in tribal finance and served as bond counsel to the Navajo Nation in the issuance of the first tribal general obligation bond governed by tribal law and enforceable in tribal court (this deal earned the 2011 Native American Finance Officers Association Deal of the Year Award) and the first Tribal Economic Development Bond issued.

Ethel also worked to advance indigenous human rights in the United States through her work for a legal non-profit and in her role as Co-Chair of the Seattle Human Rights Commission.

Ethel graduated from Harvard College in 2001, earning her A.B. cum laude in history. In 2008 she received a J.D. from Harvard Law School and an M.P.P. from the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. While in graduate school, Ethel was a Zuckerman Fellow and Nation building Fellow, and served as a Senior Editor and Article Editor on the Harvard Environmental Law Review.




Jason John began working for the Navajo Nation in 2001 as a Hydrologist. Prior to becoming the Department Manager in February 2019, Jason worked for the Department as a Senior Hydrologist, Principal Hydrologist and Director of the Water Management Branch. In addition to working with Navajo Nation leadership, the Department interfaces with Navajo Nation programs, communities, and state and federal agencies to promote water development through Public Law 93-638 Contracts and other agreements for planning, design and construction. Jason holds a B.S. in Geophysical Engineering from Colorado School of Mines and an M.S. in Geological Sciences from the University of Texas at Austin. He is also a board member of Animas La Plata (ALP) Operation Maintenance Replacement (OMR) Association since February 2012 and Navajo Nation trustee to the Ten Tribes Partnership and Colorado River Water Users Association.





Navajo Nation Department of Water Resources Water Management Branch

Crystal Tulley-Cordova, PhD, MWR is a Principal Hydrologist in the Navajo Nation Department of Water Resources - Water Management Branch. She is an enrolled member of the Navajo Nation. Crystal currently works on securing and protecting water rights and developing water infrastructure projects for the Navajo Nation. She has worked collaboratively with Navajo Nation partners on water-related research since 2013. Her past research consisted of three projects conducted in collaboration with the Navajo Nation Water Management Branch, Navajo Tribal Utility Authority, and Navajo Environmental Protection Agency; they are entitled (1) Navajo Nation, USA, Precipitation Variability from 2002 to 2015, (2) Stable isotopes in precipitation and associated waters: Recording the North American monsoon in Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah, and (3) Groundwater sustainability and susceptibility to modern contamination in Fort Defiance, AZ. In 2021, she was awarded the American Indian Science and Engineering Society Professional of the Year Award and the University of Arizona Agnese Nelms Haury Tribal Resilience Leadership Award. She received a doctoral degree in Geology and an Interdisciplinary Graduate Certificate in Sustainability from the University of Utah. She has received a Master of Water Resources in Hydroscience and a Bachelor of Science in Earth and Planetary Sciences from the University of New Mexico.




Navajo Nation Department of Water Resources Water Management Branch




Navajo Water Rights Commission

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