Grievance filed against Navajo Nation presidential candidate Russell Begaye

Noel Lyn Smith
The Daily Times

FARMINGTON — A former Navajo Nation presidential candidate has filed a grievance with the Navajo Office of Hearings and Appeals challenging Russell Begaye's qualification for the tribal presidency.

Begaye, who represents the Shiprock Chapter on the tribe's council, received 7,453 votes to finish third in the Aug. 26 primary election, according to the official results.

Last week, the Navajo Nation Supreme Court ruled Begaye will replace former presidential candidate Chris Deschene on the ballot for the top tribal office. The tribe's Office of Hearings and Appeals disqualified Deschene last month, and the tribe's high court upheld that decision on Friday.

Myron McLaughlin, a resident of the Chinle Chapter, filed the grievance at 4:52 p.m. on Oct. 31 with the Office of Hearings and Appeals in Window Rock, Ariz.

The complaint centers on Begaye's service as a shareholder representative for the Navajo Nation Oil and Gas Company. It asks that the Office of Hearings and Appeals disqualify Begaye as a candidate and replace him with the fourth-place finisher in the primary election, Shiprock resident Donald Benally.

Among the allegations in the complaint are that Begaye violated tribal law by being part of a lawsuit filed in federal district court in Phoenix. In the lawsuit, the company's shareholders requested the court overturn a decision by the tribe's Supreme Court that reinstated the company's CEO and its five board members. The court ultimately declined to hear the case.

The grievance states Begaye's action demonstrates he did not maintain an "unswerving loyalty" to the tribe and "attacked the sovereignty of the nation, when he brought his lawsuit in federal court."

It also accuses Begaye of receiving money from the company to pay for his legal representation and for attending shareholder meetings.

On Monday, Begaye said he was not surprised the grievance was filed. He said he has repeatedly heard those same allegations.

He said the shareholders have no control over the scheduling of meetings because the company arranges those, and the federal court filing was not against the tribe but against the CEO and the board members.

"The whole thing, to me, is that it's a ploy. ... They don't want me on the ballot," Begaye said.

When reached by telephone on Monday, McLaughlin declined to comment about the grievance.

He said the complaint had nothing to do with his eighth-place finish in the primary election.

"I'm just trying to do what's right for the Navajo Nation," McLaughlin said, adding that means having an honest leader.

The Office of Hearings and Appeals have 15 business days to review the complaint, said Joe Aguirre, a hearing officer with the agency.

"It's still under review for efficiency," Aguirre said on Monday.

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