Small chapters sweat out the shake-up

By Cindy Yurth
Tséyi' Bureau

CHINLE, April 24, 2014

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When an earthquake strikes, pity the little pebbles on the fault line.

With the fall from grace of Speaker Johnny Naize and a major shakeup brewing with the next Council election, there are going to be a lot of little pebbles falling by the wayside.

In the present Council, for whatever reason, some of the most powerful players represent some of the least populous, most rural chapters. For a brief, shining moment, chapters like Nazlini, Chilchinbeto and To'likan could line up behind some of the Council's biggest guns.

It's doubtful Naize's legal battle to retain the speaker position will be successful, in spite of an eloquent, last-ditch (possibly self-serving?) plea for mercy by Blue Gap/Tachee Chapter President Aaron Yazzie in last week's Times.

Naize represents the parched, remote chapters of Blue Gap/Tachee, Many Farms, Nazlini, Tselani/Cottonwood and Low Mountain.

Whatever you can say about Johnny Naize, he knows his people and he fights for them. He may still be on the Council, but without the speaker's megaphone, he will no longer have the clout he once had, and it will be harder for these chapters to get the projects they desperately need.

The far northern chapters of Mexican Water, To'Likan, Teec Nos Pos, Aneth and Red Mesa have a similar champion in Kenneth Maryboy. But Maryboy has announced his intentions to run for president. If he wins, he will be representing the entire Navajo Nation, and will no longer be able to advocate for his region the way he does now.

Perhaps the saddest pebble on the fault line is Chilchinbeto. When the 88-member Council was condensed to 24, that neglected chapter was taken on by Katherine Benally, one of the Council's most unstoppable geologic forces.

Chilchinbeto, which had begged, cajoled and even tried to embarrass the tribe into replacing its condemned chapter house for the past 12 years, finally got somewhere with Benally's representation.

On the wall of the former clinic that serves as the temporary chapter office, you can see Chilchinbeto's dream: Design and Engineering Services' rendering of a proposed $3 million multi-purpose building featuring chapter offices, Head Start classrooms, a senior citizens center, solar panels, a courtyard playground, and even a museum to house the world's longest Navajo rug, which currently sits rolled up in storage.

"Now we can see something," said Mary Keahey, the former chapter vice president who is still working on the chapter house project. "Katherine has been working on it so much."

But Benally, who fell on her own political knife to back Naize, has said she won't seek re-election. Which makes Keahey very nervous.

"She's the one that really looks for money for us," Keahey said.

A seasoned pol who is not prone to hand-wringing, Keahey is already mustering Plan B. She and the rest of the committee who are pushing the new chapter house are backing their own Council candidate, Helena Charley Botone.

"Katherine is not the only strong, educated person from our area," sniffed Keahey.

But to think a freshman legislator can step right into Benally's stylish pumps and build a multi-million multi-purpose building is dreaming way too big, even for the chapter with the world's longest Navajo rug.

The only good news is, the majority of the chapters on the Navajo Nation are small and underrepresented. However the shake-up shakes out, it's a wind that's going to blow somebody good. And they'll probably deserve it as much as the ones who will be left in the political rubble.

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