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Krista Allen
Navajo Times

It’s not about personal ambition for the three young women. It’s about serving others and that’s why they’re running for Béésh Bąąh Dah Si’ání.

Former Miss Navajo Nation titleholders Crystalyne Curley, Crystal Littleben, and Shaandiin Paul Parrish are running for Council delegate.

They’re all under 40 and already have years of political engagement behind them.

They’re in the vanguard of the next wave of Diné leaders and they’re potential weapons. But even so, they’re Naabeehó Bich’eekį’ by heart and sisters by soul.

Millennials, Generation Z

Curley, Littleben, and Parrish have enough clout to compete with their elders this election season.

They’re skilled in the art of oration and leadership, and they have the potential to reshape Diné Bikéyah long dominated by male lawmakers.

“It’s amazing to see that our Miss Navajo (titleholders) are continuing their service to our people,” Parrish said. “That’s inspiring to me because I’ve always seen the role as Miss Navajo Nation as a public service role.

“And the continuation of serving our people is taking that next step,” she said. “Representing your community through an election is a huge process to go through. It’s a different process than that of Miss Navajo.”

Parrish, 27, would represent Deinihootso, Tódinéeshzhee’ and Tsiiłchinbii’tó chapters.

Littleben, 30, would represent Rock Point, Lukachukai, Round Rock, Tsaile/Wheatfields Lake/Tséch’ízhí.

And Curley, 36, would represent Low Mountain, Many Farms, Nazlini, Táchii-Blue Gap, and Tsélání-Cottonwood.

Parrish, who’s from Tódinéeshzhee’ and Naatsis’áán, said there is a difference between Béésh Bąąh Dah Si’ání and Naabeehó Bich’eekį’, but the service to the Navajo people is the same.

“The time that we were all given as Miss Navajo Nation opened up our eyes to the needs of our people,” said Parrish, who was Miss Navajo from 2019-21.

“They’ve been able to see the progress and the changes that had been made since then,” she said. “They’ve taken in the life experiences that have changed the way that they can see solutions for our Nation.”

Curley said her grandfather, Kee Yazzie, taught her that one should never call themselves a leader or a naat’áanii because naat’áanii was meant for the mountains and the earth.

“We’re just stewards of the land,” Curley said. “They give us the teachings of how to be a good leader.

“The traditional story goes back to when there were only animals here. The (animals) were trying to look for a leader,” she explained. “They said, ‘Let’s go ask shash. Maybe he’ll be our leader, he’ll be our naat’áanii.’ They found out that he sleeps and eats too much.

“Then they said, ‘Oh, we’ll get mountain lion – náshdóí – he’s going to be our leader,” she said. “‘He has strong claws and he’s fast.’ What he was doing was being fascinated with himself.”

Curley said the third choice was na’ashǫ́’ii because the animals, the First People, thought na’ashǫ́’ii would be quick and talk for the people.

“They found out he was always indecisive and playing tricks on everybody,” Curley said. “That’s how they made the mountains the leaders and split up the responsibility between the four sacred mountains – the true naat’áanii.

“Now that we’re in the Fifth World, we have to somehow get back to those fundamental teachings,” she said. “That story really teaches us how to be good leaders and how not to be a leader, and how (one) should carry yourself and the responsibilities that are put upon you.”

Curley said she wants to teach and share these kinds of Diné stories that aren’t quite told anymore.

“That’s my focus point, trying to bring back that culture of how to think of everyone and have compassion for everyone,” she added. “Not to overlook anybody but getting down to the hogan level of nahat’á: how it’s done at the home level. It’s really about collaboration.”

Piqued interest

Curley said visiting the Navajo Nation capital as a child piqued her interest in Navajo politics. Littleben said her interest also piqued at a young age, envisioning herself as a lawmaker.

“I always served on the student council, president-vice president of clubs,” Littleben said. “I really enjoyed interacting with students and finding ways to help the schools.”

Littleben said she always knew she’d run for Council one day and began preparing for it.

“Right now, I have what it takes to run for Council,” Littleben said, “especially from Miss Navajo. Being Miss Navajo puts you into a whole different perspective of what your community needs. It’s not just my district but the entire Navajo Nation.”

Curley, Littleben, and Parrish said while they’ve been interested in politics for years, they’ve also been long active in their communities. Now, they’re delving deeper into the issues and listening priorities under “pandemic recovery” such as infrastructure, power line extensions, water line expansion, agriculture restoration, community project development, youth and professional development, said Parrish.

Parrish has a master’s in business management from Arizona State University.

“We can tell by the chapters if they’re being supported,” Littleben explained, “by their Council or by the current (chapter) administration based off of how the chapter house communicates with one each other and how they help their community.

“Right now, there’s a lack of that,” she said. “You can see how (leaders’) decisions affects how the chapter houses thrive.”

Self-determination

Self-determination drives their work – whether that’s providing tangible relief to families or exemplifying the essence of Yoołgai Asdzą́ą́, Asdzą́ą́ Nádleehé, Áłtsé Asdzą́ą́, and Na’ashjé’ii Asdzą́ą́.

Curley said, “Ajooba’ bee nahat’á éí bee sézį́.”

“Nihizaad dóó nihina’nitin éí shił nilį́,” she said t’áá Dinék’ehjígo. “Diné binaalte’é nihxá nishlį́įgo nihxíighah sézį́į dooleeł.

“With these principals I intend to amend and improve policies to efficiently and effectively address community issues such as agriculture, infrastructure, education, health, environment, economic development, and public safety,” she said.

Parrish said she studied elementary education in college because there isn’t enough to supplement the Navajo language for communities in Western Navajo.

“I felt I could be that change that our communities in Western Agency needed,” Parrish said. “So, identifying the issue and trying to help with a solution. In turn, that ended up changing into policy and politics.”

Littleben said being a Miss Navajo influenced her to run for Council.

“It guided me,” she said. “It gave me the initiative and it added to my leadership skills. From my perspective of my reign (2017-18), I know I can help people directly now.

“From all of those experiences, that really helps elevate my chances and my perspective of running for Council,” she added. “As a delegate, I just want to help my community.”

Curley and Littleben have college degrees. Curley has two bachelor’s degrees from ASU and a master’s in health administration from the University of New Mexico. Littleben has a bachelor’s in psychology from Northern Arizona University with an emphasis in Native American Studies.

Curley is originally from Fish Point, Ariz. She is Tsénjíkiní and born for Tó’aheedlíinii. Her maternal grandfather is Kinyaa’áanii, and her paternal grandfather is Dził T’aadi Kinyaa’áanii.

Parrish is Kinyaa’áanii and born for Kinyaa’áanii. Her maternal grandfather is Tódích’íi’nii, and her paternal grandfather is Tábąąhá.

Littleben is originally from Tónaneesdizí. She is Kinłichíi’nii and born for Mą’ii Deeshgizhnii. Her maternal grandfather is Bįįh Bitoodnii and her paternal grandfather is Bit’ahnii.

She’s currently working toward returning to school to earn a graduate degree in linguistics at UNM.

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This article was originally published in the Navajo Times