It was beginning to sprinkle on Monday afternoon in the capital of the Navajo Nation, just feet away from the Office of the Navajo Nation President and Vice President, when incumbent Jonathan Nez announced his vice-presidential candidate. Per Navajo Nation code, candidates have just five days after the primary election to announce their vice-presidential candidates, making Monday the last day.
After much anticipation, Nez introduced Air Force veteran Chad Abeyta, 33, who is an attorney, husband, and father from Alamo, New Mexico, one of the satellite Navajo communities on the eastern side of the nation. He currently lives with his wife’s, Paulene Abeyta, community in To’hajiilee, west of Albuquerque, where they are raising their two children.
Abeyta is Tó Baazhní’ázhí born for Chishí. His maternal grandfather is Kiis’áanii and his paternal grandfather is Áshįįhí. He earned a bachelor’s and juris doctorate degree from the University of New Mexico. He went on to get a masters of law degree from the University of Arizona’s James E. Rogers College of Law.
His wife, Paulene Abeyta, is currently vice president of the To’hajiilee Community School Board of Education, which in satellite Navajo communities wields a lot of influence. She also holds a juris doctorate degree and graduated from the University of Arizona’s James E. Rogers College of Law.
“I am honored to be selected as a candidate for vice president of the Navajo Nation. My wife and I are evidence of President Nez’s commitment to bring our young Navajo people home to serve and become leaders. My family and I are here today to join President Nez, First Lady, and the team to continue that mission for the Navajo Nation and our people. President Jonathan Nez has demonstrated outstanding leadership, especially during this unprecedented time as he continually works and advocates for the best interest of the Navajo people. My family and I look forward to taking on the challenge of serving all Navajo people,” said Abeyta in a press release.
Nez outlined qualities like family values and a bootstrap mentality in explaining why he chose Abeyta to join his ticket.
“Chad and Paulene were raised by strong parents and grandparents and they now raise their own children with the same love and compassion that they were raised with. They worked hard to earn their law degrees and they immediately returned home to help our people the past few years. They are involved at the community level and they have professional experience with the Navajo Nation that will serve the Navajo people well. My wife, Phefelia, and I are excited and looking forward to building on the success of the first term in office alongside Chad and Paulene. With his upbringing, faith, military service, education, professional experience, and family, Chad will serve our people with great honor and love,” Nez said.
Abeyta is from the New Mexico portion of the reservation, and Nez is from Arizona. Selecting a running mate from a different region of the reservation is a strategic move to try to draw in more voters.
A few hours later, Buu Van Nygren announced his vice-presidential candidate. After the primary, Nygren’s campaign posted on social media that his campaign was accepting applications for vice-presidential candidates.
“We want to make history. We want to make sure that those who have not been represented in the president’s office, we want to make sure that they become represented in that office,” Jasmine Nygren, Nygren’s wife, said during the opening of the press conference.
Nygren selected Torreon Chapter President, Richelle Montoya Chee. Torreon is part of the tri-chapter area in Eastern agency. She is Hashtł'ishnii born for Ta'neeszahnii. Her maternal grandfather is Kinłichii'nii and her paternal grandfather is Táchii'nii. She comes from a family of veterans.
“Our campaign has always been about the voices of our people,” Nygren said. “A lot of our people across Navajoland expressed the need for women leadership in the president’s office… and there was no hesitation on my end to make sure their voices will be heard in the president’s office.”
“We selected a running mate who is going to help us make history. Not only make history but to be a vice president that will be effective at the local level, a vice-president that will understand the veteran issues, a vice president that will know firsthand what it takes to work at the community level.”
Under a clear, blue sky, strikingly different than hours before, Montoya Chee took the mic to introduce herself to the Navajo people.
“I have been listening to his platform. I have been listening to everything that he is wanting to bring to our Navajo Nation and I'm behind him 110 percent,” she said.
Montoya Chee made her speech mostly in Navajo, which is important for Navajo voters.
“Thinking for the future means speaking for our daughter, our little one,” Nygren said. “We want our little one to grow up knowing that, ‘My dad did not shy away from change. My dad did not shy away from choosing a woman vice-presidential candidate.’ We are here to challenge the status quo.”
The Navajo Nation has yet to elect a woman as president or vice president. There continues to be cultural barriers that keep Navajo women from ascending to lead their nation.
Nez and Nygren will face each other in the tribe’s general election in November. They were the top two vote-getters among 15 presidential hopefuls in last week’s primary election.
The AP contributed to this report.
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