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Russell Begaye for President: We Need to Modernize Our Infrastructure

Navajo Nation will hold its presidential election on April 21 and candidate Russell Begaye 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 Russell Begaye, of Shiprock, New Mexico and Joe Shirley Jr., of Chinle, Arizona.

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

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

We need to use this to establish the first Navajo Nation bank, thus establishing the Nation as a lending tribe. The Nation’s programs, enterprises and corporations pay an exorbitant amount of finance charges to banks and other lending agencies. Also, many individual Navajos pay a huge amount of finance charges to lending companies when they buy cars, trailers, furniture, etc. All these payouts could remain on the Nation by establishing our own bank.

Russell Begaye: "We first must be given authority over our minerals, which requires an act of Congress."

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?

The requirement to speak Navajo has been greatly misrepresented in the general public by connecting all Navajo Nation employment positions to being able to speak Navajo. The thousands of jobs that are available on the Nation, such as school teachers, health workers, miners, chapter staff and many more do not require that they speak the Navajo language. Out of thousands of jobs, only two positions require the ability to speak Navajo – the office of president and vice president. We are a nation, and like every nation around the world, these two positions should require the ability to speak Navajo. The argument that we will eventually lose our language was born when the federal government and the BIA brainwashed our people into thinking this was our future. We should not let that happen.

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

The Navajo Nation is, above all, a treaty tribe. The stipulations agreed to by the United States government in the treaty must be adhered to as long as there is a U.S. government. We need to keep reminding the United States of this obligation. Our people suffered greatly and lost millions of acres of land and the resources contain within when they signed the treaty.

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

We will begin manufacturing many of the products we buy from the outside and in the process become a world player in the global market. Part of this will involve modernizing our infrastructure, which will come as a byproduct of building plants to build and export products.

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

We first must be given authority over our minerals, which requires an act of Congress. We have been denied this basic right as the original owners of our land. Secondly, resources currently extracted are being used to build and sustain cities throughout the Southwest. These resources should be used first to build and sustain our Nation. The use of solar and wind to produce power is a must for our long-term sustainability. We must develop not only solar and wind farms but portable units for individual homes and businesses.

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

Border towns such as Gallup, New Mexico., and Farmington, New Mexico, are being sustained by Navajo consumers. Without the Navajos, these border towns would be bankrupt. This is a reality that leaders in border towns need to realize and begin working with our Nation to address the issues of homelessness and substance abuse. This is where long-term programs need to be negotiated wherein tax dollars collected by border towns will be used to run these programs.

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

“Forest Gump” would be one, but also “Turquoise Rose” and “The Dark Wind.”