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Effort to increase number of delegates sees some support

WINDOW ROCK

Legislation for a referendum to increase the number of delegates to 48 has been passed by the Law and Order Committee and the Budget and Finance Committee, so far.

This leaves the Naabik’iyati Committee and the Navajo Nation Council to decide whether this referendum will be on the ballot this year.

The legislation is sponsored by Delegate Edison Wauneka.

As stated previously, he is currently approaching the change in delegates through the referendum process, which is when a delegate refers a ballot to change a law to Council and Council decides whether they will refer the ballot to the people or not.

This comes with complications because when the number of delegates was lowered to 24, the original ballot stated the number of delegates could only be changed through the same initiative process that former President Joe Shirley Jr. used.

This process consisted of petitions being circulated then it was put on a ballot where the people voted on it.

“If approved, this initiative may be repealed or amended by the initiative process only,” the ballot stated.

President Jonathan Nez spoke about how the Shirley administration changed the number of delegate from 88 to 24 in 2008.

“They (the Shirley administration) garnered signatures,” Nez said. “They actually went out to the Navajo people to get signatures to place that reduction question on the ballot, including the line-item veto.

“It (the 2008 legislation) didn’t go through the Council,” he said. “It went from petition to the people.”

Nez also said the current legislation concerns him because Council is doing the opposite from what the 2008 ballot stated.

“Here you’re doing the opposition, where the Council is trying to put it on the ballot, and not going through the same process as was done prior,” he said.

“That is a concern for me. I think really, the same process should be utilized to go out there and get signatures and put it on the ballot.”

Some community members also believe that this legislation should have the input of the people.

“I would say that would be a better choice (letting the people request the legislation),” Charlie Smith, Chapter president for Cameron, said.

Darrell Marks, a regular voter, said he believes when it comes to this legislation he believes that if it is put back on the people they will agree to an increase in delegates.

He also said delegates need to make sure they are getting the input of community members on this legislation.

“One of the things that I really feel like needs to be stressed is that our delegates are lawmakers, yes, but they’re also representative lawmakers,” Marks said.

“They’re not there to voice simply their own positions and opinions on things, they’re supposed to representative of the communities that voted for them and being able to carry that over in an appropriate manner.”

He hopes that delegates are already reaching out to their communities about this legislation. If they are not, he said they need to.

Despite the issue with the referendum process being used by Delegate Wauneka, Smith and Marks believe increasing the delegates will be beneficial for their communities.

Smith said he believes it is a good idea to increase the number of delegates because some delegates oversee more than one chapter which can extend over a wide distance.

He uses Delegate Thomas Walker Jr. and his chapters as an example.

“For our community, our Council delegate covers five chapters, I think it would help if we had two over in this area,” Smith said.

Marks also spoke about Walker and held the same thoughts as Smith. He said there is a lot of mileage to cover between the five chapters (Cameron, Coalmine Canyon, Birdsprings, Leupp and Tolani Lake) Walker covers.

“I think that if there was an increase of delegates, they’d have a better response in meeting with their constituencies, addressing what they need,” he said.

He also considers that there will be problems, such as prolonged decision making, if there is an increase in delegates but he believes that some chapters are not getting the help and support they need.

“Those chapters all need that support and they need more robust legislative to help address their needs,” Marks said.


About The Author

Hannah John

Hannah John is from Coyote Canyon, N.M., and currently based out of Gallup as a reporter for the Navajo Times. She is Bit’ah’nii (Within His Cover), born for Honágháahnii (One Who Walks Around), maternal grandfather is Tábaahí (Water Edge) and paternal grandfather is Tódich’ii’nii (Bitter Water). She recently graduated from the University of New Mexico with a bachelor’s in communications and a minor in Native American studies. She recently worked with the Daily Lobo and the Rio Grande Sun.

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