Nygren wins Navajo Nation presidential race, Montoya becomes first female VP

Steven Bortstein
Farmington Daily Times

FARMINGTON − Dr. Buu Nygren will replace Jonathan Nez as president of the Navajo Nation, a position that wields influence nationally because of the size of the tribe’s reservation in the U.S. Southwest and its enormous population.

According to unofficial results from the tribe’s elections office, Nygren led incumbent president Nez, who was in search of his second term, by about 3,500 votes with all 110 precincts reporting. Turnout among the roughly 125,000 registered voters surpassed 50 percent. Results still need to be certified, which may take up to 10 days to complete.

Nygren’s win is also notable because it marks the first time that a woman will have a position in the Office of Vice President. Richelle Montoya becomes the first woman to reach the office. Navajo voters twice advanced Lynda Lovejoy to the general election for the presidency, but she lost both times.

Navajo Nation presidential candidate Buu Nygren shares his views about veterans issues during the presidential candidate forum on June 3 at San Juan College in Farmington.

"I think that's an amazing feat, because we had a lot on the line," Nygren said. "As the youngest person to reach this position and then a female candidate ascend to this level. The Navajo voters were ready for change."

The Navajo Nation’s estimated population of 400,000 is second only to the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma. It also has the largest land base by far of any tribe at more than 27,000 square miles (70,000 square kilometers) stretching into parts of New Mexico, Arizona and Utah.

Nygren, 35, pledged to work more closely with the Navajo Nation Council that often is seen as more powerful than the tribal presidency. Newly elected leaders take office in January. Nygren is married to Arizona state Rep. Jasmine Blackwater-Nygren.

"The basic necessities of every Navajo person was what we campaigned on," Nygren said. "It all stems from a more efficient and effective government that provides services to our elders, our youth and at the local chapter level."

A family of Navajo Nation voters exit the Nenahnezad Chapter House after voting while another voter prepares to enter the voting facility on Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2022.

Although Nygren has never held any tribal office, he ran alongside former Navajo Nation President Joe Shirley four years ago as his vice presidential candidate. They lost to Nez.

Results released Tuesday night from the Navajo Nation Election Administration show Nygren getting more than 34,500 votes, while Nez earned the support of more than 31,000 votes.

Born December 25, 1986 in Blanding, Utah, Nygren is the youngest person to have ever been elected President of the Navajo Nation.

A mother and son prepare to enter the Nenahnezad Chapter House where voting in general elections took place on Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2022.

Nygren earned his doctorate last year at the University of Southern California, studying education and organizational leadership at the Rossier School of Education. Although Nygren has never held public office, he campaigned as a candidate for change and as someone who could get the ball rolling on long-awaited projects.

"I feel like I’m well rounded," Nygren said in an interview on the campaign trail. "I know the experiences and the expectations and most of the wants of the Navajo people are: water, roads, electricity, better public safety treatment centers, and really trying to create safer and healthier communities."

Supporters of Navajo Nation presidential hopeful Buu Nygren react to his speech on April 4 about seeking the office in Window Rock, Arizona.

Nygren and Montoya will be installed in office on Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2023. Also at that time, the Navajo Nation Council will return to session with the task of electing a speaker. The current speaker, Seth Damon, resigned the postafter a photo of him appearing to be inebriated made its way onto social media. Damon won re-election because he was running unopposed.

"Through the voters words and actions last night, the resonating theme was change," Nygren said. "We faced a lot of obstacles, including a candidate who's been a great campaigner for seven years. One of the things I asked myself was what kind of leader could I be if I only chose the easy races?"

The Associated Press contributed to this report.