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Navajo Leaders Disrespect Our Right to Vote

“The April 21 date set by the Navajo Election Administration for a special election for tribal president is once again up in the air."

This was the start of an article from last week’s edition of the Navajo Times. When I read this headline, all I could think to myself was “Wow! Here we go again. What’s the use in my right to vote if we cannot even decide what day to vote and much more on who to vote for.”

Since the primary election the Navajo Nation has been torn in two. Not by the people themselves either. But rather by the same people we have put our trust and confidence in to lead us toward a better future.

I read on with a heavy heart that one of our former leaders made a statement declaring that the nation should “Give the Navajo people the opportunity to vote on ballots that are both valid and fair under the law.”

“Under the law.” This struck a cord in me when I began to think of what the law states. According to the U.S. Constitution, Amendment 15, Section 1, “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.”

Yet on September 5, 2014, former Navajo presidential candidates Dale E. Tsosie and Hank Whitethorne filed grievances with the Navajo Office of Hearing and Appeals to have candidate Christopher Deschene removed from the ballot after the legally set deadline of May 5 to file grievances.

Furthermore, a decision handed down by the Navajo Nation Supreme Court stated, “We are a nation of laws. If we are to continue on our journey as a sovereign Nation, we must collectively uphold and respect the laws of our Nation, especially those laws that are embedded in our identity as Diné.”

Which brought to me to ponder, “what law or whose law are we are following?”

As I read on I could not help but lose all hope in the future of our leadership when former Navajo President Joe Shirley issued a statement that said, “The actions of President Shelly was irresponsible and has created greater disharmony in the middle of an on-going election process that he once was a candidate of as well.”

Those words “disharmony” rang out loudly in my mind as I thought back to not so long ago when he, too, caused disharmony in the election process by trying to run for a third term. That disharmony echoed through the halls and offices of the 2010 presidential administration.

Looking back I remember that two years earlier, according to a memo obtained by the Navajo Times on Aug. 3, 2010, Shirley informed Shelly, "Effective immediately, I am revoking the authority given you in January 2007 to have immediate supervision over three positions within the Office of President and Vice President.” For reasons not explained, Shirley stripped Shelly’s authority over vice presidential staff. Shirley took similar actions four years earlier against Vice President Frank Dayish.

But that was only the tip of the spear. Our very own Navajo Nation Council has repeatedly not only defied Navajo Law, but also has gone against direct election results of the Navajo people.

According to a letter addressed to the Navajo Board of Election Supervisors following the Dec. 15, 2009 special election to reduce the council from 88 to 24 members (ordered immediately by the Navajo Nation Supreme Court) each of the five agency caucus leaders presented a letter stating, "In the best interest of the people, the NBOES can take an action to suspend the election indefinitely until such time all election related documents, etc., are in proper order."

“Proper order.” What order do we have now? This question I ask of our current leadership and hopeful candidates.

Every branch of the government has had a say in the matter at hand. It is no longer a matter of fluency or even what voter’s rights are. With this in mind, where do we stand as a people who value life and decency above all else?

Within the past decade or so, the nation has seen its leaders fall from grace with prosecutions for receiving kickbacks and for the manner in which they conduct themselves.

As I was growing up, I was taught to always think before I spoke. Be fair and be kind in your words, be honest and truthful at all times, especially when no one is watching, and most importantly be fair and consistent in every decision made. These are qualities we hold high and expect in our leaders.

During one Navajo Supreme Court ruling, Chief Justice Herb Yazzie stated that we are a nation that must follow the longstanding tradition of Diné Bi Beehaz’áanii.

Where do we stand with that teaching now? N.N.C. § 203 states “it is the right and freedom of the Diné to choose leaders of their choice; leaders who will communicate with the people for guidance; leaders who will use their experience and wisdom to always act in the best interest of the people; and leaders who will also ensure the rights and freedoms of generations yet to come”

As I thought of this, discouragement began to set in. For so many years, my generation has been told by the elders to go and become educated and learn the “white man’s ways” then come home and take the lead for our people. But when we return and make attempts to become the leaders, we are only met with opposition and criticism.

Never has this been more evident in our government. My generation has been criticized for being educated and not knowing our traditional ways. I have been criticized for not knowing my native language. Furthermore, I have been criticized for not being a full Navajo.

When does this type of belittling end?

We must face that our language will die if we continue down this path. Our traditions will cease to exist if this does not end now.

It is therefore with such burden in my heart I ask my fellow Navajo (Diné) people to take a stand and say “no more.”

“No more criticism. No more discouragement. Instead, I will encourage my younger brothers and sisters to learn from me. I will not laugh at them when they try to speak our beautiful language. I will explain to them what our prayers mean and teach them how to pray along. I will ensure the future of our Navajo Nation.”

Rhiannon Curley is a citizen of the Navajo Nation.