Benally pushes economic progress, sovereignty

By Kyler Litson
Navajo Times

SHIPROCK, June 26, 2014

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Donald Benally

The bell rings signaling the start of a boxing match but for Donald Benally, a former California Golden Gloves boxing champion, it’s not combinations and footwork anymore but politics and votes.

The days are long past when Benally pursued boxing championships and today he has his eyes on the title of President of the Navajo Nation. He is not in it just for the title but to also protect and defend the sovereignty of the Navajo Nation and to boost and expand its economic opportunities, according to Benally.

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.

Benally grew up nine miles west of Shiprock where he lived with his grandparents and learned the Navajo language from them.

“Little bit of hardship but it was good,” said Benally of his upbringing.

After completing high school in Ignacio, Colo., he headed west on a boxing scholarship and to pursue an education.

“The discipline and individual challenge of the sport,” said Benally on why he chose boxing over other sports.

Benally received his associate degree from City College of San Francisco before being drafted into the U.S. Army and the conflict in Vietnam.

“You learn to appreciate life and freedom,” said Benally about the war. “Life is very precious and delicate.”

After the conflict in Vietnam ended, Benally came back to the states to continue his education. Using the GI Bill, Benally obtained his bachelor’s degree from LaSalle University in Illinois.

According to Benally, his interest in politics came from his time at DNA Legal Services, where he worked for four years, and his lifelong desire to give back to his reservation.

Benally found some early success in his political career by becoming a founding member and head of the Navajo Nation Bar Association and becoming the youngest delegate elected to the Council in 1982.

Many years later, Benally is in his second go-round for president of the Navajo Nation. Benally unsuccessfully ran in the 2010 election.

“Build some economy, to have a strong economic base on the Navajo Nation,” said Benally on his economic development agenda if elected.

“You won’t believe how much money goes out,” said Benally about consulting contracts on the reservation.

Benally wants to stop the outsourcing.

“The number one thing we have to do is we have to stop out resourcing our Navajo money,” he said. “We don’t enforce Navajo preference in business and in hiring."

Benally believes the resources exist among the Navajo people to make economic strides.

“We do have the resources to do a lot of the things that the non-Indians are doing,” he said.

Benally believes if elected, he could create up to 1,500 small Navajo owned businesses within his first term to boost economic development on the reservation.

“You’re going to have to help them, start-up funds, we have to help them,” he said.

Benally holds a strong stake in Navajo sovereignty for he plans to build an office for the Treaty of 1868 if elected.

“An office where they will fight and protect the Treaty of 1868 with good competent Navajo lawyers that will be there to protect our resources,” he said.

“We have our resources right here. We have land, water, money, oil, and gas. It’s all here within these sacred mountains and we have all these wolves looking in everyday ready to steal our resources,” he said.

Benally sees the way to fight off the wolves is through his planned office dedicated to the Treaty of 1868.

“Fight for every penny and every resource we are entitled to,” said Benally.

With two months and three presidential candidate forums left, the primary election process is about halfway completed. Benally hopes to deliver the knockout punch leading up to primary election day on August 26.

Benally is Tó’aheedliinii (Water Flows Together Clan), born for Naakaiilizhinii (African American). His maternal grandfather is Táchii’nii (Red Running into the Water Clan). His paternal grandfather is Choctaw.

Benally will hold a rally June 28 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Shiprock Chapter.

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