Russell Begaye Sees a Need for Change in Navajo Government

Russell Begaye, who represents the Shiprock, New Mexico, chapter on the Navajo Nation Council, has announced his candidacy for Navajo president.

Russell Begaye, who represents the Shiprock, New Mexico, chapter on the Navajo Nation Council, has announced his candidacy for Navajo president.

Begaye, 61, is the third Shiprock resident to join the race. He will face opponents Duane “Chili” Yazzie and Donald Benally – two career politicians from Shiprock – in the August 26 primary election. Also running for president are Myron McLaughlin, Kenneth Maryboy, Moroni Benally, Chris Deschene and the tribe’s only two-term president, Joe Shirley Jr.

Originally from Shiprock, Begaye left the reservation to build a construction business. He returned four years ago and ran successfully for a seat on the 24-member Council, a position he wants to trade for the president’s office.

Begaye believes his business background sets him apart for the job. He hopes to use sound business principles to grow jobs on the reservation, where unemployment hovers above 50 percent and youth often leave home in search of opportunity.

“I look at everything through the eye of business,” he said. “The way I know how to raise the Nation to a new level is by looking at it the same way.”

Begaye announced his candidacy Monday, April 14, at the Navajo Tribal Park and Veterans’ Memorial in Window Rock, Arizona, where he also outlined his priorities.

As the tribe wrangles with widespread financial misconduct among its elected officials, Begaye offers a clean slate, he said. If elected, he pledges to rebuild trust and create a better work environment.

His other goals include working with Congress to secure the tribe’s rights to water, clean air and land. He also wants to focus on lifelong education, providing scholarships to the young and training opportunities to those in the work force.

“To me, education is from birth all the way to the grandmas and grandpas,” he said. “Education is not just for high school and college-age youths. We need a lifetime of learning.”

Above all else, Begaye wants to tackle the longstanding issues of poverty on the 27,000-square-mile reservation. He plans to develop economic zones near areas of higher population and create incentives for businesses to set up shop on the reservation.

“We have a good number of Navajo people who run businesses mostly off the reservation,” he said. “If we provide the right incentives and create the market, I think they’ll come back and they will be successful.”

Although he acknowledges his rookie status in Navajo politics, Begaye believes he can provide the change the tribe needs. He decided to run for president when he noticed a lack of new ideas and faces in the mix of candidates.

“I started seeing the state of the Navajo people, the poverty, the lack of jobs, lack of goals, lack of business development, the water not getting to people’s homes, people living in storage buildings, all the muddy roads,” he said. “I haven’t been in Navajo politics for very long, but I have been here long enough to know that the Navajo Nation government must change.”