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Begaye, Nez are ready for change

Noel Lyn Smith The Daily Times
The Daily Times

FARMINGTON — Navajo Nation presidential candidate Russell Begaye says he understands the Navajo people want change.

"We believe the people want to see change in leadership. They want to see the nation move forward," Begaye said in an interview this week at The Daily Times.

One way to move the tribe forward, he said, is by appointing new personnel to lead the tribal divisions and bringing Navajo professionals home.

He is surprised by the number of professional Navajos who are willing to return home and focus on improving the tribe.

"It's refreshing to me," Begaye said.

Along with promoting change, Begaye says he also would develop working relationships among the tribal enterprises so they can collaborate with each other to create economic development.

He points to the package material used by the Navajo Agricultural Products Industry.

Those sacks are most likely manufactured off the Navajo Nation, he said, adding that it is possible for those materials to be created by a Navajo workforce.

Once that workforce exists, it would need housing and that is where the Navajo Housing Authority could step in. And the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority provide utility services, he said.

From this one initiative, the tribe can develop an entire community, Begaye said.

These are the ideas Begaye said he has been talking about since his name was added to the presidential ballot after second-place finisher Chris Deschene was disqualified by default judgment in October after refusing to take a Navajo language fluency test.

Begaye's candidacy also faced a legal challenge when some claimed he had taken a position against tribal sovereignty, but his eligibility was upheld by the Navajo Nation Supreme Court.

Despite the delays surrounding this election, Begaye says has managed to reach out to the people.

Begaye is a registered member of Shiprock Chapter. He is Kinlichíí'nii (Red House Clan), born for Bit'ahnii (Folded Arms People Clan). His maternal grandfather clan is Táchii'nii (Red Running Into the Water People Clan), and his paternal grandfather clan is 'Áshiihíí (Salt People Clan).

He completed a term on the Navajo Nation Council in January, where he represented Shiprock.

Begaye went with Council Delegate Jonathan Nez, who represents the Naatsisaan, Oljato, Shonto and Ts'ah bii Kin chapters, for his running mate.

Nez, 39, is a registered member of Shonto Chapter in Arizona and is serving his third term on the council.

He is 'Áshiihíí (Salt People Clan), born for Ta'neeszahnii (Tangle Clan). His maternal grandfather clan is Tódích'íi'nii (Bitter Water Clan), and his paternal grandfather clan is Táchii'nii (Red Running Into the Water People Clan).

Begaye and Nez say their service on the Council has helped them understand the importance of communication between the executive and legislative branches.

With that in mind, Begaye said he would like to create a liaison position within the president's office.

This person would be responsible for tracking pieces of legislation and helping the president with recommendations to the council for important legislation, he said.

Fluency in the Navajo language has been a focus of the presidential election and Begaye and Nez agree it is important to provide opportunities to learn it.

"I appreciate the discussion this is (creating). Nationally, people are recognizing the need to preserve, to maintain the language. That's a good thing," Nez said.

He added that Navajo language program at institutions such as Diné College and San Juan College need to be supported and promoted.

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