Navajo Nation presidential hopefuls share views, concerns about veterans at forum

Noel Lyn Smith
Farmington Daily Times

FARMINGTON — Although candidates for the Navajo Nation presidency are vying against each other, they agreed during a forum on June 3 that services for Navajo veterans needs improvement.

"We're going to remove layers and layers of bureaucracy from the way that the order comes down from Window Rock it's going to get to the chapter site in hours – not days, not years," presidential candidate Justin Jones said on June 3 at a candidate forum that centered on veterans.

Jones, who served in the Marine Corps for five years, also called for the federal government to provide direct services and funding to Navajo veterans, rather than having them seek services from state agencies funded by U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

Voters heard what several presidential hopefuls think about issues and topics that impact veterans and how they would address those concerns if elected to the tribe's top office.

More:Concert will benefit group supporting Ukrainian family in Farmington

Navajo Nation presidential candidate Emily Ellison meets with a voter after the presidential candidate forum on June 3 at San Juan College in Farmington.

Another topic several candidates focused on was streamlining federal and tribal funding to deliver services and financial assistance to veterans.

For Emily Ellison, this means creating a "clear system, an efficient system" to access those dollars. She proposed transforming agency offices under the Navajo Nation Veterans Administration to nonprofit organizations.

She added that the development of services to veterans is tied to the Navajo Veterans Trust Fund, Navajo Veterans Act of 2016 and the plan of operation for the tribe's veterans administration.

"In reviewing those documents there's definitely a lot of chiefs and we need to fix that. A lot of that stuff can be automated so its streamlining," Ellison said.

Navajo Nation presidential candidate Earl L. Sombrero, left, meets with Navajo Code Talker Samuel Sandoval after the presidential candidate forum on June 3 at San Juan College in Farmington.

Greg H. Bigman called for nation-building and combat social issues like drug and alcohol abuse, domestic violence and rising crime rates.

"One of the things that I'm going to do as your leader, is I'm going to call upon you to serve this nation again," he said then explained that veterans serve as role models in communities.

Others proposed ideas, Dineh Benally stated he would build a private hospital to serve veterans and start a National Guard unit on the Navajo Nation to help in emergencies.

Bigman proposed having agency offices operate independently and reimburse health care costs to support medical transportation services.

More:Farmington visual, performance artist earns $50,000 award from Mellon, Ford foundations

Frankie Davis gave a fiery speech that targeted ending reliance on the federal government to provide veterans' benefits and resources.

"I want us to be independent. I'm sick of Washington," Davis said.

There are 15 candidates running for tribal president, including incumbent Jonathan Nez, but only 10 participated in the forum arranged by the Northern Agency Veterans' Organization.

Nez sent a two-page letter to the organization that briefly outlined ongoing issues and accomplishments of his administration's work with the Navajo Nation Veterans Advisory Council.

He also explained that his absence was due to travel to the White Mountain Apache Tribe, where a tribal police officer was killed in the line of duty and another injured on June 2.

Members of the audience listen to comments about veterans issues from Navajo Nation presidential candidates during the forum on June 3 at San Juan College in Farmington.

Candidates who also took part in the forum were Buu Nygren, Earl L. Sombrero, Dolly Manson, Frank Dayish and Rosanna Jumbo-Fitch.

Sandra Jeff and Ethel Billie Branch were to participate but withdrew. According to organizers, Jeff missed the event due to a family emergency.

More:Late former county commissioner hailed for devotion to regional water issues

Branch posted on her campaign's Facebook page that she was not attending because a close contact tested positive for COVID-19 on June 3.

"I want to be sure that I don't inadvertently spread the virus to others," she wrote. "I'm currently testing negative with the rapid tests, but they typically only detect the virus once you're symptomatic."

In a post on the morning of June 4, Branch stated that she took a PCR test for COVID-19 and was waiting for the results.

The tribe's primary election is Aug. 2. The top two finishers advance to the general election in November.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 or by email at

Support local journalism with a digital subscription: