The Navajo Nation is in a tug-of-war that goes beyond just politics. The struggle is about more than just language fluency. In some ways it’s about the old guard and keeping traditions. Living in the heart of the Southwest for more than two decades now makes me feel qualified to offer my observations. I don’t have a dog in the fight in the upcoming special election for Navajo President and Vice President, or any Navajo election for that matter.
This has become an unprecedented election for the Navajo Nation. For the first time ever the general election is happening in the springtime. Also the Navajo Nation Council is at odds with the Navajo Supreme Court over whether a referendum on the fluency issue should be held before a special election.
On Friday, Window Rock District Court Judge Carol Perry agreed with lawmakers and former Navajo Board of Election Supervisors when she ruled in favor of a temporary restraining order to stop tomorrow’s election.
Once again, the election is up in the air but Edison Wauneka, director of the Navajo Election Administration, insists the special election will be held as scheduled even if it means him being held in contempt by Judge Perry.
The Navajo Nation legislative Spring Session begins today. According to a spokesperson for the Navajo Nation Speaker of the Council, the session will be called for a recess either at the end of the day Today or Tuesday morning if the election is held. That has never occurred.
One part of this whole saga that isn’t getting much attention is how the current administration has kept its cool with all of this turmoil swirling around them. Upon closer inspection it’s advantageous for the current Ben Shelly-Rex Lee Jim administration that this election continues to be held up after they lost in last year’s primary elections.
Deswood Tome, current Chief of Staff for the Office of President and Vice President, pointed out that back in January Chief Justice Herb Yazzie swore in Shelly and Jim to remain in office until the election issues are resolved and an oath of office takes place for a new president – another unprecedented event.
Shelly and Jim have been given more time to complete projects that were already in motion, including a $2.4 billion dollar railway that “would allow commerce to flow from the Four Corners area all the way to…Los Angeles for instance. We could export oil. We could export agriculture. We could export natural gas and coal,” said Tome.
He mentioned other ongoing projects including the Navajo Transitional Energy Company, the Navajo-Gallup Water Delivery Project, and the Medicare-Medicaid Billing Agency being set up that would allow funding from those two health programs to be circumvented from the state and go directly to the tribe. He touted technological advancements like a new broadband infrastructure and a clean coal project.
The administration is acting as if they were re-elected, so the more time the election is stalled and before a new president is elected and sworn in the better from their point of view. There has even been talk that because of lack of interest and low voter turnout that voters may challenge the special election results based on this low turnout and ask for Shelly to remain as President for another entire term.
To me, it’s everybody for themselves within our largest tribal nation. It’s the ultimate tribal power struggle being played out right before our eyes. I mean, how can a tribal judge from a lower court try to overrule the tribal Supreme Court?
Why is a faction of the tribe trying to get the Supreme Court judges removed because the court ordered their candidate be taken off the presidential ballot because they felt he could not prove that he was fluent in Navajo?
Like I mentioned in the beginning I don’t have a dog in this fight, and the Navajo Nation will continue on in both their progressive and traditional ways. The Shelly-Jim team are to be admired for forging ahead with their agenda.
Harlan McKosato is a citizen of the Sac and Fox Nation of Oklahoma. He is the Director of NDN Productions, an independent media production company based in Albuquerque.