Deschene announces candidacy for tribal prez

By Krista Allen
Western Agency Bureau

PAGE, Ariz., May 1, 2014

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Christopher Clark Deschene

He’s seeking the Navajo Nation’s highest office, battling for ownership of the mantle of "change."

More than two weeks ago, Christopher Clark Deschene announced his candidacy for presidency of the Navajo Nation at the regular chapter meeting in LeChee, Ariz. where many people - including one of his opponents, Myron McLaughlin - gathered to hear his remarks.

Deschene greeted the chapter meeting in Navajo on April 14.

“We have different issues, different concerns, but in some respects, we’ve the same concerns of the nation,” said the 42-year-old tribal energy attorney, engineer, and a father of two boys. “We still have issues with our reformation. We’re still reforming our government … what we need are leaders who have experience dealing with the law and who’ve been lawmakers."

The Navajo presidency is the most powerful office in Diné Bikéyah and through its leadership can come a more vital force for the people.

“We don’t have strong leadership,” said Deschene. “The future doesn’t look too good.”

The most crucial decisions of this century must be made in the next four years, and Deschene says he’s the right man for the job. He provided to the meeting that evening a glimpse of what might be a stronger, better, fairer Navajo Nation.

When he was young, he was baptized into the Church of Latter Day Saints but hasn’t been an active member since the military, which was more than 20 years ago.

Today, the prosperous agha’diit'aahii says he’s traditional. Thus far, his campaign has raised the seed money for the application fee, a website (, and literature pieces.

And just how did he get here?

Deschene says ago he had enthusiasm for running. He’d run along the edge of the local canyons.

“I sat down one evening after running … I looked at our community of LeChee. I looked at our situation - we had alcoholism, we had domestic violence. What I was thinking back then, ‘it has to be better than this.’”

Over the course of the years, Deschene graduated from Page High with top honors. Because he worked tirelessly in high school, he obtained an appointment in 1989 to the prestigious U.S. Naval Academy where he received advanced military training and ideological indoctrination as well as a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering along with a commission as a second lieutenant.

After the academy, he volunteered to serve with the Marine Corps. Before Basic School - where all newly commissioned Marine officers are sent to learn the art and science of being an officer of the Marines - he put his engineering skills to work as a military research engineer at the National Laboratory in Livermore, Calif.

He was, however, a natural leader throughout his distinguished military career. During the nineties, the young Marine led from the front with the infantry and reconnaissance units. He served overseas with missions in the Persian Gulf, Southeast Asia and the Middle East. Along with more than 160 Marines in 1998, the naat’áanii served as the executive officer for Reconnaissance Co.

After leaving active duty in 2001, Deschene decided to pursue a master’s in engineering with an emphasis in renewable and alternative energy development and a juris doctorate at Arizona State University.

“I followed the nation from a long-distance perspective,” said Deschene in an interview with the Navajo Times. “I got into law school and started becoming more aware of Indian Country and started understanding a bit more about the legal, governmental challenges.”

Deschene said when he was in law school, he served in the state Senate as a legal fellow for former Senator Jon Kyle.

“I witnessed the Navajo Nation come into the U.S. Senate and the Arizona House of Representatives. I saw them move around D.C. and thought, ‘There has to be a better way,’ the same question I had.”

His 10-year military career ended in 2003 when he was promoted to major. Upon law school, Deschene cofounded the Law Office of Schaff and Clark Deschene to practice as a tribal energy attorney for indigenous tribes throughout the country. People would say Chris Deschene has always been a public servant.

In 2008, he was elected into the Arizona House where he sponsored several bills and took part in two committees assignments.

Four years ago, he campaigned to be the Arizona secretary of state. Deschene says his experiences have prepared him well enough to assume the mantle of leadership.

“The intangibles (like charisma, strength, conviction, and courage) are the things that we learn. Those are all things that people in their own way find in their journey.”

But does his experience matter? He says experience absolutely matters.

“You’ve to know what you’re doing even if you know what you’re doing … you've to have a vision and you’ve to have a plan to execute it."

Deschene said the Navajo Nation is missing boldness, the decisiveness to execute and make things happen.

Despite a long list of qualities, Deschene said he does not speak Navajo, one of the requirements, according to the Navajo Nation Election Administration.

When asked why he doesn’t speak Navajo, he said, “Because I’m a product of cultural destruction.”

He’s well versed, however, in the Diné songs and prayers.

“I’m well-educated by my family about the language, its importance. Like many people, all I need is practice. I’m confident that over the campaign, I am and will get better. I’m even more confident should I be elected that will be fluent at the end of my administration."

Deschene was born on June 3, 1971 in Southern California to Margaret Deschene from Dennehotso and the late Leo Clark Sr. from Coppermine. He is Tódích’íi’nii (Bitterwater Clan), born for Deeshchíí’nii (Start of the Red Streak People Clan). His maternal grandfather is Nóóda’í Táchii’nii (Ute-Red Running Into the Water People Clan) and his paternal grandfather is Táb??há (Water’s Edge Clan).

“The Navajo Nation is a beautiful place where the history of our people resonate, where the strength and independence can be seen, felt, and herd; where there’s talk of balance, harmony and peace; where the leadership of a nation can be seen …

“It’s a beautiful place with beautiful people. And we have a lot of talent, a lot of strength, people gifted that can make a lot of difference … We need leaders who will protect that, preserve it and help preserve that for the future. There’s no where else that you can see that in the world. And I’ve been all over the world. No where you can see that."

Deschene is a football and wrestling coach at Page High. He’s been married to his wife, Shaun (Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa) for 7 years.

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