Wauneka pushes involvement, communication with the people

By Lane Franklin
Navajo Times

WINDOW ROCK, June 12, 2014

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Edison Wauneka

Directly across from Edison Wauneka’s desk, the framed quote of Gandhi hangs on the wall, “Each of us must be the change we want to see in the world.”

Wauneka is one of 17 candidates vying for the 2014 Navajo Nation presidency and he intends to be that change for the Navajo people.

“We should commit ourselves in helping each other,” Wauneka said, emphasizing his platform’s focus on active involvement combined with effective communication between the government and the people.

“If we really wanted to make a difference within the Navajo Nation government, we all have to pitch in,” he added.

He is ‘Áshiihí (Salt Clan) and Tábaahá (Water’s Edge Clan) and is originally from Crystal, N.M. Wauneka and his wife Cecilia relocated to Oak Springs, which he and his wife have called home the last 37 years.

Watch Video Profiles of the Candidates

See video excerpts from the presidential candidates' appearance at the Navajo Nation candidates' forum June 23 in Tuba City.

His adolescence included attendance at Crystal Boarding School, Intermountain Indian School and Cottonwood High School in Utah.

Following graduation from high school, Wauneka committed himself to a two-year mission to Canada with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Those two years exposed him to the Shoshone, Flathead and Cree tribes. From these interactions, he developed a broader understanding of tribal issues across North America.

“I got an education as far as the concerns that Native Americans have,” he said.

Following the completion of his mission, he attended Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, for three and a half years. There, he had a major in zoology with a minor in Indian education while also pursuing prerequisites for dentistry.

Due to financial burdens, Wauneka put his degree on hold and moved back to the reservation.

“I just came home to maybe take a year or two years off and I’m still here,” he said.

Since returning home in 1977, Wauneka has gained experience in the tribal government. He began his journey with the Office of Navajo Economic Opportunities working in the day care division.

Over the years he has had roles such as Fort Defiance housing manager, Capital Improvement director with the Division of Community Development, and was the first director of Native American Voting Rights Office in Santa Fe.

From 1998-2002, Wauneka served as Council delegate for the Crystal, Red Lake and Sawmill chapters. He served again in public safety and then became executive director of the Navajo Election Administration, a job he serves in today.

Elected positions that he has held include Oak Springs Chapter president and vice president and Navajo Preparatory School Board president.

Wauneka willingly stepped down from the position of Navajo Prep’s board president in 2013 due to a conflict with his employment as the head of the tribe’s election office.

To avoid a conflict of interest, such as with the Navajo Prep situation, Wauneka relinquished some of his roles as executive director with his involvement with the presidential race. Currently, Johnny R. Thompson runs the elections office.

His 2014 bid for the highest tribal office is not Wauneka’s first rodeo. Twelve years ago, he ran for tribal president earning a fourth place finish behind winner Kelsey Begaye, Joe Shirley Jr., and write-in Milton Bluehouse Sr.

He vowed to only run once for the position, but his finish in 1998 gave his supporters hope.

Wauneka’s platform also stresses realigning the tribe with a balance of spiritual and physical foundations.

Crucial to this, he said, is relying on the strength of our ancestors.

“They had endurance, had the mentality, even though there was no food stamps, there was no chapters or anything like that, but because of our ancestors, we’re here,” he said.

“We were considered a strong nation at that time,” he added. “Put your house in order and I think if we want to be recognized as a great nation again, I think we better get our government in order."

At the recent Navajo Nation Presidential Candidates Forum on June 5 in Shiprock, Wauneka responded to a panelist’s question with a bold statement.

“We’re ready to take the land title back,” he said.

This affirmation of sovereignty involves reclaiming land, water, and mineral rights for the nation, he added.

Wauneka believes with the necessary inclusion of educated and talented youth, the Navajo Nation is capable of running itself and eliminating the imposed, limited sovereignty.

According to the former Council delegate, part of the issue with lack of sovereignty is the need to immediately address the tax base and reverse Navajo dollars from leaving the reservation.

“So there is no question that I will take the lead in all the problems of the Navajo Nation,” Wauneka said. “That, I can promise the people.”

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