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Joe Shirley for President: We Need a Better Relationship With Federal Government

Navajo Nation will hold its presidential election on April 21 and candidate Joe Shirley Jr. answered questions presented by ICTMN.

Navajo voters on April 21 will go to the polls to elect a new president. Running for the position are Joe Shirley Jr., of Chinle, Arizona, and Russell Begaye, of Shiprock, New Mexico.

Shirley, who holds an honorary doctorate degree from Northern Arizona University, already served two terms as president. Begaye is a businessman who served one term on the Navajo Nation Council.

ICTMN asked both candidates to answer an identical list of pertinent questions leading up to the Tuesday election. Here’s how Shirley responded:

The Navajo Nation in 2014 received $554 million as a settlement against the federal government for mismanaged funds and resources. How do you think the settlement dollars should be used?

There are a lot of things that we need. The people haven’t addressed it and I think that needs to get done. Certainly, we’re prepared to get as much information as possible from the elderly, medicine people, the youth, the college-educated, the business people, the veterans, soldiers and their families to get specific input as to how we should use it.

Joe Shirley Jr.: "We need to entice businesses to come here."

The Nation for the last six months has been divided over questions of language fluency. How do you feel about the requirement for the president to speak fluent Navajo?

I think it’s fundamental. The world is looking in through the presidency and vice presidency of our Nation, and they need to put out there that this is the Navajo Nation and this is the leadership. When you’re talking about the Nation, leadership, our way of life and culture, you need to know what you’re talking about. You need to know the language, culture and way of life. You need to know about our sacred songs, sand paintings and sacred sites. You need to be able to convince foreigners who we are. The president can’t do that if he doesn’t know the language. It’s fundamental that they speak fluently and understand the Navajo language.

What do you think of efforts to reform or modernize trust agreements with the federal government?

Certainly there are a lot of things that need to be addressed in terms of laws, legislation and trust between governments. If something is not working, let’s talk about it. We need to have a better relationship with the federal government, and those things that are not working, we need to work on, do away with them or make changes. We also need to make sure it works on behalf of the people, not the U.S. government.

The unemployment rate on the Nation hovers around 50 percent. What is your plan to develop a sustainable economy?

That’s a big question, and it has been a big question for decades. I don’t think the answers are easy to find. One thing that’s in the way is our antiquated laws surrounding business development. Our processes for business site leasing, running a business and financing – they’re decades old and they’re not working. I think we need to overhaul all of that and make it easier for businesses to establish and get land. Having done that, we need to entice businesses to come here. It’s a humongous undertaking, but I think we’re up to it.

What are your views on energy policy – both coal resources and renewal energy options?

We still have 100 years of coal under Navajoland, and I think we can do coal better. I think the federal government needs to stop developing energy overseas and start working with us. Coal and oil reserves are where we find Navajo Nation employment, and we should also do everything we can to bring solar power, get into wind power.

How should the Nation address social issues like homelessness and substance abuse in border towns?

I think we need to work together with the powers that be. We need to work together because we’re in this together. The Navajo people run the city of Gallup, New Mexico. We pour millions of dollars into Farmington, New Mexico, Page, Arizona, and Flagstaff, Arizona. These cities need to work with us to address homelessness and other problems. Working together, we can find a solution. We need to put more resources into homeless shelters, alcoholic treatment programs and training centers.

More than a dozen movies have been filmed on the Navajo Nation. Which one is your favorite?

I love movies. I love all of them.