Western hears from all 17 candidates for president

By Krista Allen
Western Agency Bureau

TUBA CITY, June 26, 2014

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The third presidential forum on Monday featured pointed exchanges between the 17 candidates over policy, character, vision, and even their administration. With two months left until the primary election, it was the candidates' chance to impress Western Navajo – or not.

Sound reverberated in Greyhills Academy High's auditorium where dozens of people, including Navajo Nation Vice President Rex Lee Jim, Arizona Senator Carlyle Begay, and Peter MacDonald Sr., observed the three-hour forum.

During the introductory round, candidates' names were randomly drawn from a Folgers coffee can and they were allowed two minutes.

The first candidate to speak was Apache County District 1 Supervisor and former tribal president Joe Shirley Jr., who presented himself as Tódích'íi'nii, born for Tábaahá.

The second candidate was Hank Whitethorne, who presented himself as Lók'aa' Dine'é, born for Hashk'aa Hadzohí.

"I'm for strategic planning for the future," said Whitethorne in his opening address in Navajo. "The range of issues facing Western Navajo is why I'm running for president. We're disregarded here. Take me into consideration, and let's move forward."

The third candidate was Bodaway-Gap's Carrie L. Martin, who presented herself as Naasht'ézhí Tábaahá and acknowledged her grandmother, Mary Martin, in the audience.

"She is the reason why I'm running for president," said Martin. "I'm thankful for the opportunity to stand for the young people and to let them know they have the opportunity to stand as leaders themselves one day."

The fourth candidate was Dale E. Tsosie from LeChee Chapter. He presented himself as Naaneesht'ézhi Táchii'nii, born for Tódích'íi'nii. He introduced himself in English.

"I really believe youth is our future and that we should concentrate on them because one of my basic plans is to reach out to them, to make a future for them because many times, our leadership forgets the youth," he said.

The fifth candidate was President Ben Shelly, who expressed appreciation in Navajo for the audience.

"Often, we come together to resolve issues, and that's what we've been doing," he said. "That's our job."

The sixth candidate was Russell Begaye, who introduced himself as Kinlichíí'nii, born for Bit'ahnii. He alluded to the Assayii Lake Wildfire, for which he drew much applause and cheers.

"I had a meeting with the victims," he said. "They cried that their donations were taken to Window Rock. Let's not do that to our own people, please! Let's empower the local communities."

The seventh candidate was Cal Nez, a Táchii'nii from Sanostee Chapter. In his opening remarks, he greeted all five agencies.

"I'm running for platform of the economic development," said Nez, in Navajo. "I'm bringing the boardroom of corporate America to the Navajo Nation. I'm calling for you to stand by me to bring the business format, the business ideology to go out there and to make this thing happen. And we can do it."

The eighth candidate was the Oaksprings Chapter's Edison J. Wauneka, who introduced himself in Navajo as an 'Áshiihí, born for Tábaahá.

"I'm seeking help from you to help me change the Navajo Nation," he said.

The ninth candidate was Edison Begay from Tohatchi Chapter. In Navajo, he introduced himself as Tódích'íi'nii, born for Tábaahá. In his opening remarks, Begay talked solely about the wildfire.

The tenth candidate was Myron McLaughlin from Chinle. In Navajo, he joked that the people in the audience all came to support him. After a few laughs, he introduced himself as Tódích'íi'nii, born for Naalani.

"I'm an advocate for the people," said McLaughlin. "The Navajo Nation government is in complete disorder and confusion. I'm not pleased! Nothing has changed!"
Next, from Shiprock, was Donald Benally.

"The tribulations of Western Agency is real," said the Tó'aheedlíinii. "People here are neglected, and I'm sure it can be resolved."

Kenneth Maryboy was the 12th candidate to introduce himself. In his opening remarks, he welcomed the audience in Navajo to Tónaneesdizí.

"Our children don't have jobs," said the Biih Bitoodnii, who is born for Tl'ááschí'í. "Our veterans are suffering. Some of our people don't have homes, and living in the workshop."

Moroni Benally from Tólikan Chapter was the 13th candidate to introduce himself. In Navajo, he told the audience a number of reasons why he's running.

The audience cheered loudly when the 14th candidate, from Western, Christopher Deschene introduced himself in Navajo as Tódích'íi'nii, born for Deeshchíí'nii.

"I'm running with a couple of principals – leadership, strength, ethics, confidence, and (safety) of our people and culture," he said. "These are the reasons why I'm running for the Navajo Nation president."

Shiprock's Dan Smith was the 15th candidate to introduce himself. He presented himself as a Kinlichíí'nii, born for 'Áshiihí. In his opening remarks, he, too, alluded to the wildfire.

"The reason why I'm running is because I'm tired of our own government," said Smith. "It needs rescuing. We need to put values and principals back to work. Let's rescue our Navajo Nation, let's get the job done."

Shiprock Chapter's Duane H. Yazzie was the 16th candidate to introduce himself. In his opening remarks, he told the audience, "The Navajo Nation government is not adequate to carry us into tomorrow. It's not strong for us to reclaim proper authority that will enable us to reinstate our true self reliance … the great paradigm shift must happen for the sake of our people."

Kaibeto Chapter's Kee Yazzie Mann was the 17th candidate to introduce himself. He presented himself as Yé'ii Dine'é Táchii'nii, born for Tábaahá.

"I'm very familiar with the Navajo Nation law," he said." I have a strategy to fix up the Navajo Nation Council."

Many of the candidates played offense against former naat'áanii such as Shirley and Shelly during the first and second rounds of questions provided by panelists Diné College-Tuba City campus student Jordon J. Begay, KTNN-KWRK's Ray Tsosie, Navajo Times Editor Candace Begody, and retired Navajo Nation judge Manual Watchman.

Minutes into the forum, the mood turned solemn. When Russell Begaye was asked how he will advocate for public safety, he answered, "We need to treat our Navajo Nation employees with a lot of respect. They're overworked and underpaid. We need to take care of our employees … we will fix that."

When Carrie Martin was asked how she will advocate for the revitalization of the former Bennett Freeze, she answered, "If I was elected, I would ensure that every Navajo within the Bennett Freeze Area will have the opportunity to have a home, to have their dreams met as far as their health, their livelihood, and their livestock."

The mood turned tense when Begody asked Shelly what he thought about gay marriage as it relates to Navajo. Shelly said he knew that question was coming, but answered, "It's your life. You make the decision between the two of you."

Some members of the audience said many of the questions asked Monday night didn't pertain to Western Navajo.

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