New Navajo Nation president outlines his administration's plans

Noel Lyn Smith The Daily Times
The Daily Times

WINDOW ROCK, ARIZ. — The morning after winning the Navajo Nation presidency, Russell Begaye spoke about his administration's plans for the future in a press conference outside his campaign headquarters in Window Rock, Ariz.

The president-elect and his running mate, Jonathan Nez, received 25,745 votes in Tuesday's special election, defeating candidate Joe Shirley Jr. and his running mate, Dineh Benally, who received 15,439, according to the unofficial results.

Begaye and Nez are scheduled to take the oath of office May 12, according to the special election timeline set by the Navajo Election Administration.

Begaye made no announcements Wednesday about the directors of the tribe's 12 divisions. The president appoints the directors. Begaye said he and his team are reviewing several resumes and are continuing to accept more. Part of the review process will include background checks, he added.

One goal of the incoming administration is to hire more young Navajos, Begaye said. Nez explained that when he travels to Washington, D.C., he meets many young Navajos who have jobs with non-Navajo entities. He asks them why they are not using their skills to help the tribe, he said, and a common response is that many "doors" are closed to Navajos because they are either over- or under-qualified.

"Their heart is there to move the Nation forward," Nez said.

Begaye represented Shiprock Chapter on the previous Navajo Nation Council, and Nez is serving a third term on the council representing the Naatsisaan, Oljato, Shonto and Ts'ah bii Kin chapters in Arizona.

Because of their experience, the men said they are ready to develop a close working relationship with the council.

"We will have a good, strong, close-working relationship with our naat'áaniis in the chambers," Begaye said. Naat'áanii is the Navajo word for leader and is often used to describe an individual who holds a leadership position.

Council delegates Amber Kanazbah Crotty, Jonathan Perry and Leonard Pete attended Wednesday's press conference event and listened as the elected leaders outlined their plans.

Begaye also announced the creation of a taskforce to examine the tribe's election laws and processes to ensure a fair process and that every vote is counted.

"We should have never gone down this road," he said, referring to the months of delays in electing a new president after August's primary election.

Begaye also reiterated that there is a need for the tribe's divisions, programs and enterprises to collaborate and share resources.

As he prepares to assume the post, the incoming president said he is also talking to previous tribal leaders, like former chairman and President Peterson Zah, who also attended Wednesday's press conference.

"Because they have knowledge that is invaluable and anyone who has served at this level, they acquire knowledge and expertise," Begaye said.

Milton Bluehouse Sr., a former interim president, asked Begaye about whether the tribe could benefit from Interstate 40 and the BNSF railroad, which both cross the southern region of the reservation.

"I dream someday that we'll capitalize on that railroad, as well as the national highway that's there," Bluehouse said.

Begaye agreed with Bluehouse's statement about the economic potential, but cautioned that the tribe has to first understand how to utilize it.

Also on Wednesday, Nez said he believed in Begaye's vision and leadership, which is why he accepted the vice presidency. During the campaign, Nez said he heard people comment about Begaye often using an iPad. But, Nez said, Begaye was using the device to write down people's concerns.

"I think with his advocacy, we'll be able to do a lot of changes for the Navajo Nation, but, as I always said throughout the campaign, we can't do it by ourselves. We need your help. ... With your help we can do great things," Nez said.

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.