Navajo vice presidential candidates add life experiences to political campaigns
Buu Nygren donned Shirley-Benally campaign shirts and buttons in 2014. Now, the 31-year-old will have his name printed on this year’s campaign material.
Nygren said he had “a very unique upbringing.” He recalls going to town in the back of a camper every couple weeks or once a month. He identifies with “rez kids” as he grew up with no running water or electricity, and raised by his grandma. She told him to always have a “good heart” and to radiate positivity so good things will come to him.
The opportunity to be vice president of the Navajo Nation is that good thing she talked about.
Joe Shirley, Jr. initially selected high-school principal Peter Deswood III as his running mate. Deswood turned out to be ineligible because he was not a registered voter, according to the Navajo election office. Deswood didn’t vote in the 2014 presidential election. An active voter registration is a requirement for running presidents and vice presidents. Deswood, founder of the podcast 21st Century Native Leaders, expressed his regret on Facebook, and still supports Shirley and Nygren. (You may see Deswood again in four years as he created a Facebook group called “Peter Deswood III for President 2020.”)
Despite Shirley’s obstacle, him and Nez both chose running mates who are not part of the political circle. Some are upset with their decisions due to the lack of experience in tribal politics. Others are taunting their blood quantum and Navajo fluency on Facebook. Lizer is Comanche and Navajo. Nygren is Navajo and Vietnamese.
Nygren, whose first language is Navajo, said "I think this is actually challenging our own people to say, 'When you're Diné, you're Diné. Whether you're half or whether you're a quarter. As long as you're a member of this nation, you're Diné.'”
Both are Navajo and educated businessmen.
Nygren is currently pursuing his Doctor of Education in organizational change and leadership at University of Southern California while being the National Operations Trainer with CORE construction. He’s built his way up using his degrees and experience. He already has a bachelor’s degree in construction management and masters in business administration from Arizona State University under his belt.
Besides riding his horse, the former model of the 2012 “Men of the Navajo” calendar flies around the country for his job. Shirley is probably hoping Nygren’s knowledge of building a steady workflow atmosphere and technology training will transcend into the work that needs to be done on the tribal nation. It turns out that part of Nygren’s job is building schools, senior living homes, and public safety facilities - all a form of business that the duo homes to bring to the people.
A fun fact about the Navajo Nation election: there has been only one candidate, who ran for an executive office position, from outside New Mexico and Arizona. George P. Lee was the first from Colorado. He ran for vice president and president in 1990 and 1994. Nygren’s nomination makes him the first from Utah. If elected, he will also be the youngest vice president in Navajo Nation history.
That youth bit is the key. He’s using that to gain the interest of young people in this election. On Facebook, he promises to fight for the youth voices, especially the young professionals who want to return home and work for the nation.
Jonathan Nez and Myron Lizer are running on the same platform as they believe in young professionals and giving money and power back to the Navajo people through small businesses.
Lizer possess that business savvy, similar to Nygren - 47 years of business experience on the Navajo Nation. The 53-year-old owns and manages Navajo Westerners Ace Hardware Store and Lumber Yards in Window Rock, Arizona. He knows what it’s like to run a business in a space where it’s difficult to start and run a business. Many say there’s so much red tape when it comes to trying to become an entrepreneur on the nation. The Comanche and Navajo candidate seems to understand since he founded Window Rock chapter of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a lobbying group for businesses, and gives financial literacy training to entrepreneurs. He received similar financial training when he was an accountant for the Southern Ute Growth Fund within the Southern Ute tribe. The job wasn’t too far from his alma mater, Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colorado, where he earned his bachelor’s degree in business administration.
Even though the Ganado-born business owner doesn’t seem like to have a lot of time on his hands. He does. Nez wanted someone who values family as much as he does. It’s part of the Navajo way of life. Lizer has three children and, according to his very active Twitter, he enjoys football.
Not only are football teams geared up for the season, but the Navajo Nation candidates are pushing their way to Nov. 6.