Presidential hopefuls examine challenges facing Navajo Nation

Noel Lyn Smith
The Daily Times

Editor's note: The Daily Times planned comprehensive coverage of the Navajo Nation elections. Reporters made efforts to reach every candidate running for president and for Northern Agency Council seats, which includes our coverage area. That included tracking down cell phone numbers, making contact on Facebook and talking directly to candidates. We will continue to make every effort to provide fair coverage as we proceed to the general election.

FARMINGTON — Candidates running for Navajo Nation president say there are a variety of challenges facing the tribe.

Over the last several weeks, The Daily Times submitted questionnaires, along with requests for background information, to the 17 candidates running for president, and eight of the candidates responded. Their responses are summarized below.

Early walk-in voting is already underway for the Navajo Nation's primary election on Aug. 26. The last day for early walk-in voting is Aug. 22. Primary election voters will determine which candidates will move on to the general election on Nov. 4.

In addition to determining the next tribal president, voters will also choose the Navajo Nation Council, the Navajo Board of Election Supervisors and the Navajo Nation Board of Education, among other offices.

Moroni Benally

Moroni Benally wrote in his response that the biggest challenges facing the tribe are a lack of control over external affairs, little control over internal affairs and little to no control over property rights.

"Right now, the Navajo Nation is viewed as a low-level political group and not a nation," Benally wrote.

He added the tribe's internal sovereignty is compromised due to federal regulatory and legal controls, and because of this, it cannot do much without the permission of the federal government. This, Benally argues, hampers development and improvement of nearly every tribal government service.

To address that, Benally says he would renegotiate the terms of engagement with the federal government for federally funded programs, predicated on trust and treaty obligations. He also said he plans to conduct internal evaluations of tribal programs and divisions to identify those without proper credentials for their jobs and to identify wasteful spending.

Benally, 35, is Naashaashí (The Bear Enemies-Tewa Clan), born for Bit'ahnii (Folded Arms People). His maternal grandfather clan is Tó'áhani (Near the Water Clan), and his paternal grandfather clan is Tábaahá (Water's Edge Clan).

Chris Deschene

Chris Deschene, 43, is a registered member of LeChee Chapter in Arizona and served in the Arizona House of Representatives from 2008 to 2010.

He is Tódích'íi'nii (Bitter Water Clan), born for Deeshchíí'nii (Start of the Red Streak People Clan). His maternal grandfather clan is Táchii'nii (Red Running Into the Water People Clan), and his parental grandfather clan is Tábaahá (Water's Edge Clan).

For Deschene, the biggest challenge facing the tribe is the absence of leadership.

"Currently, the Office of the President is a bureaucracy that defines the abilities and limitations of the person serving as president," he wrote in his response.

He added the office needs to be reformed and requires new leadership so it can coordinate and empower the people.

Additional initiatives Deschene says he would tackle are building a healthy economy, preserving and protecting Navajo culture and investing in the people to develop a stable future.

Carrie Lynn Martin

Carrie Lynn Martin, 37, is a resident of Bodaway-Gap Chapter in Arizona.

Martin is Naasht'ézhí Tábaahá (Zuni Water's Edge Clan), born for Ma'íí deeshgíízhíníí (Coyote Pass). Her maternal grandfather clan is Honágháahnii (One-Walks-Around Clan) and her parental grandfather is Tódích'íi'nii (Bitter Water Clan).

Martin wrote that the biggest challenge facing the Navajo Nation is the lack of young people involved in the tribe's leadership.

"Navajo Nation lacks young leadership," she wrote.

Among her vision is welcoming home young Navajos and encouraging them to become leaders.

"I truly believe we need to integrate our young people into the Navajo Nation government at all levels, so that we can ensure 'progression, not just change,'" Martin wrote.

Kenneth Maryboy

Kenneth Maryboy, 53, is from Mexican Water Chapter in Utah.

Maryboy is Biih bitoodnii (Deer Spring Clan), born for Tl'ááshchí'i (Red Bottom People Clan). His maternal grandfather clan is Bit'ahnii (Folded Arms People) and paternal grandfather clan is Hashk'aa hadzohí (Yucca Fruit-Strung-Out-In-A-Line Clan).

Currently, he is the delegate for Arizona's Mexican Water, Sweetwater-Tó ikan and Teec Nos Pos chapters and Utah's Red Mesa and Aneth chapters. He is also a San Juan County Commissioner in Utah.

In his opening statement, Maryboy wrote tradition and progress are not mutually exclusive, but it takes the right leader to bring them together.

"We must tackle the task of nation building and create a self-reliant economy that provides careers and opportunities here at home," he stated.

Among the solutions Maryboy lists are staffing his cabinet with the best and brightest individuals, holding the executive branch accountable, easing the process to start businesses, expanding the tribe's education department and emphasizing Common Core standards with Diné culture and language, and improving the recruiting process of colleges on the Navajo Nation.

Cal Nez

Cal Nez, 55, of Tsé Alnaozt'i'í Chapter, is Táchii'nii (Red Running Into the Water People Clan), born for Ta'neeszahnii (Tangle Clan).

He is the CEO and owner of a graphic design and advertising company.

"There is exceptional strength, talent and intelligence among the Diné, and yet one of the biggest challenges is the rate of poverty," Nez wrote.

He cited the 2010 U.S. Census, which listed Shiprock as having the third highest rate of poverty for an area highly populated by American Indians.

One way to address that situation is what Nez calls the "Tsisnaasjini Initiative," which seeks to improve the lives of the Diné through social entrepreneurship.

"I aspire to empower social entrepreneurs by establishing a business university that will instruct entrepreneurs on specific business methods and help create viable companies on Diné Bi Keyah," he wrote.

Daniel Smith Sr.

Daniel Smith Sr., 51, of Shiprock, is Kinlichii'nii (Red House People Clan), born for 'Áshiihíí (Salt People Clan). His maternal grandfather clan is Bit'ahnii (Folded Arms People) and his parental grandfather clan is Ta'neeszahnii (Tangle Clan).

Smith is a private consultant in business and housing, as well as an artist. He founded the political group, Navajo Corn Party.

"My focus and attention is on the quality of life and the everyday struggles of the living, economic standards of our people," he wrote.

His list of challenges facing the tribe include basic services, protecting natural resources, financing public safety and preventing money from being wasted on "corruption" and "corporate schemes."

Smith wrote that if elected, he would continue the tribe's ban of alcohol and marijuana, create economically sustainable jobs and promote the development of wind and solar farms while excluding coal and uranium.

Edison J. Wauneka

Edison J. Wauneka, 63, is a registered member of Crystal Chapter but resides in Oaksprings, Ariz.

He is the executive director of the Navajo Election Administration.

For Wauneka, the biggest challenge facing the tribe is obtaining complete control of natural resources.

With tribal lands being held in trust by the federal government, it is difficult for the tribe to receive a fair or better market value for oil, gas, coal and minerals, he wrote.

"This challenge will not be resolved with the current government," Wauneka stated. "That is why we need our brightest and intelligent youth to get educated to fight for these rights."

He says he hopes change will result through four initiatives he has introduced. Those initiatives would make the people the governing body of the tribe, reduce the signature requirements for referendums, prevent the council from overriding laws made by the people and give the people the choice to increase the council membership from 24 to 48.

Duane "Chili" Yazzie

Duane "Chili" Yazzie is 'Áshiihíí (Salt People Clan), born for Tó'aheedlííníí (Water Flow Together Clan). His maternal grandfather clan is Kinyaa'áanii (Towering House Clan) and his paternal grandfather clan is Táchii'nii (Red Running Into the Water People Clan).

For future generations to survive, the Diné must be self-sufficient and self-sustaining in 10 years, Yazzie wrote.

"I will help guide our people to reclaim our Diné values, identity and sovereign authority," he stated. "I will work to retool our government and transition to one that is rooted in Diné Fundamental Law."

Yazzie wrote that true local governance is needed for communities because local leadership has an understanding of the situations and issues that need addressing.

"I believe a retooling of the government is imperative to (ensure) that our young people and generations to come have a viable governmental process that is strong and effective in meeting the needs of the people," he wrote.

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.