Candidates for Shiprock's Navajo Nation Council seat talk about chapter's challenges

Noel Lyn Smith
The Daily Times

FARMINGTON — Nine individuals are vying for the opportunity to represent the Shiprock Chapter on the Navajo Nation Council on the Aug. 26 primary ballot.

Myron K. Begay, Ray Begaye, Wallace Charley, Tom Chee, Lula Jackson, William Lee, Wilbur M. Nelson Jr., Rose Fasthorse Nofchissey and Jerry Jay Todacheene are running for the seat.

Incumbent Russell Begaye is not seeking re-election for the seat and is instead running for the tribal presidency.

Five of the candidates — Begay, Charley, Jackson, Nelson and Todacheene — could not be reached for comment over the last few weeks.

Ray Begaye

Since 1990, Begaye has grown into a major figure in Shiprock. It started after he was hired as the executive director of the Shiprock Youth Center, where he said he reversed the financial trouble the center faced within six months of taking office.

"My motivational drive was the kids," he said.

He says his motivation for running for council is reforming the Navajo Nation Code.

The section of tribal law Begaye would like to tackle is Title 2, which established the tribal government and contains the laws for the three branches. The voice of the people has "greatly diminished" under tribal law, he said. If elected, Begaye said he would like to amend tribal law to return authority to the people.

Since last year, Begaye has spent time talking to constituents and says he has heard them express the need for government reform.

"Their concerns and problems and their proposals and their wish list always goes back to modifying the Navajo Nation Code," said Begaye, a former state representative who served from 1999 to 2013.

Begaye, 60, is Kinlichii'nii (The Red House People Clan), born for Bit'ahnii (Under His Cover Clan). His maternal grandfather is Táchii' nii (Red Running Into the Water People Clan) and his paternal grandfather is 'Áshiihíí (Salt People Clan).

He was born and raised in Shiprock and earned a bachelor's degree in education from Arizona State University in Tempe, Ariz.

Tom Chee

This is Chee's first time running for an elected office, and he said zoning is the biggest challenge facing Shiprock.

If elected, Chee said he would develop a zoning plan that preserves land while helping the community plan its future.

Chee also said he wants to remove the restrictions and regulations imposed by the tribe and the Bureau of Indian Affairs when it comes to new business. To cultivate economic development, tribal leaders need to "unveil" the policies and procedures that are "hindering" the process, Chee said.

He also thinks more work needs to be done on the proposed Navajo Rangeland Improvement Act of 2014. In Chee's opinion, the 51-page proposal was developed by individuals who do not live in the rural areas, and the document contains an "overburdening" of regulations.

Chee is Hashk'aa hadzohí (Yucca Fruit-Strung-Out-In-A-Line Clan), born for Tl'ááshchí'i (Red Bottom People Clan). His maternal grandfather clan is Naakai dine'é (Mexican Clan) and his paternal grandfather clan is Tó'aheedlííníí (The Water Flow Together Clan).

He declined to disclose his age, saying "I want to be recognized for my energy and physical activity out there."

Chee earned a bachelor's degree in religious studies from Nazarene Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Mo., and a bachelor's degree in bicultural studies from Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colo.

Chee is a self-employed education consultant and a semi-retired teacher with more than 20 years of teaching experience. He also is the fatherhood coordinator with the Family Roots and Wings Program in Kirtland.

William Lee

One reason Lee is running for council is to restore power to local government.

"I like the community to get local control of their own activities," he said. "I think we have good, well-qualified people within our community that can handle a lot of these activities."

An example he cited is returning the Northern Navajo Nation Fair to local control. In recent years, the fair has been managed by the Northern Navajo Nation Fair Board, which is comprised of 19 members representing the chapters within the Northern Agency.

"We don't need outside chapters running the fair. Let Shiprock Chapter run its own fair," he said.

If elected, Lee said he would advocate for the chapter to receive its fair share of allocation for community development.

"Other communities are getting theirs, and we are the last one," Lee said. "I (would) like to see Shiprock have priority on some of these projects."

Lee served for 12 years as Shiprock Chapter president, first from 1992 to 2000 and then from 2008 to 2012, and completed the Leadership San Juan program in 1999.

Under his leadership, Shiprock saw the establishment of street lighting, roads and fast-food restaurants, he said.

He said attempts were made to bring hotels, but little by little, investors dropped plans because of how slowly the tribe reviewed proposals.

Now that Lee is close to starting his own business, Leegend Towing and Storage, he said the system can be redeveloped to streamline the process.

Lee, 59, is Tódích'íi'nii (Bitter Water Clan), born for Táchii' nii (Red Running Into the Water People Clan). His maternal grandfather clan is 'Áshiihíí (Salt People Clan) and his parental grandfather clan is Kinyaa'áanii (Towering House Clan).

He retired in March as a control operator from the Four Corners Power Plant, where he worked for 32 years.

Rose Fasthorse Nofchissey

Although this is Nofchissey's first outing into politics, she has spent years attending chapter meetings and watching the decisions of the council.

"I never planned on becoming a government leader or politician," she said.

Among the challenges Nofchissey thinks are facing Shiprock are jobs, housing and education.

If elected, she says she would advocate for more Navajo culture-based education in schools, and she would like to continue developing the agricultural community.

She also said she wants to take the skills she learned as a school administrator and use them to serve the people.

"You find out the needs of the people, then you come up with inventions. You have a goal and you set your goal," she said.

Nofchissey would like to establish a team to assist her in communicating with chapter officials and help her reach goals and projects.

She earned a bachelor's degree in secondary education and master's degree in education, both from the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque.

Nofchissey returned to Shiprock in 2009 after living in Window Rock, Ariz., for 24 years, where she served as dean of instruction at the Tsehootsooi Diné Bi'Olta.

"I really wanted to be back here, to be involved with my community," Nofchissey said.

Nofchissey, 62, is Oozéí Táchii'nii (Red Running Into the Water People-related to the Hopi), born for 'Áshiihíí (Salt People Clan). Her maternal grandfather clan is Tl'izílání (Many Goats) and her parental grandfather clan is Bit'ahnii (Within His Cover Clan).

"I'm just following my creator and what has opened up for me," she said. "It's going to be a very challenging journey."

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 and Follow her @nsmithdt on Twitter.