Parrish, Willie announce Council bids
The race to become a Béésh Bąąh Dah Si’ání is only beginning.
Former Miss Navajo Nation Shaandiin Paul Parrish and JT Willie, the executive director for the Division of Economic Development, on April 23 announced their candidacy for Navajo Nation Council.
Parrish, 27, would represent the Deinihootso, Tódinéeshzhee’ and Tsiiłchinbii’tó chapters.
Willie, 37, would represent five chapters – Coyote Canyon, Naakaii Bitó, Nahashch’idí, Tóhaach’i’ and Bahastł’ah.
Path to politics
Last week, the former Naabeehó Bich’eekį’ traveled from Tódinéeshzhee’ to Hoozdo for a graduation photoshoot.
She posted on social media, “Never thought I’d actually get to do my homework in my master’s gown.”
Parrish on May 9 walked across the floor to receive a master’s in business management from Arizona State University.
She’s also gearing up to become a leader and how she wants to shape the decade ahead.
Parrish won the 2019-20 Miss Navajo Nation title when she was 25, but she didn’t expect to hold it for another year – and four days – because of a global pandemic.
“I draw a lot of my experiences from when I was Miss Navajo Nation,” she said in an interview with the Navajo Times. “That’s the reason I decided to get my master’s in business management.
“While we were going to the 110 chapter houses, helping everyone during the pandemic, watching that and our chapter houses talk about their plans and initiatives, one disconnect that I saw all across the Nation was communication between the Council and the chapter houses,” she explained.
In this moment of intersecting crisis across Diné Bikéyah – from Covid to injustice, from ecological problems to economic inequality – Parrish said she’d been paying attention during her reign.
“To help our people, we need to help our chapter houses,” Parrish said. “As Miss Navajo, I was fortunate to work with President Nez and listen to our leaders’ discussions.
“Just really paying close attention to what our elders and our youth are looking for, applying that to my education,” she said. “How can I be a resource to my people? As someone who wants to help, I really wanted to learn that firsthand.”
Parrish said she’d been praying and gaining insight about the disconnect in the Nation because she knew she’d be a resource for her people after receiving her degree.
“I’m not just saying that as a voice for the people but actually come back with skills to help our chapters,” she added, “and learning how to do proper project management or accounting or give some insight to management of the resources that we have.”
Parrish is Kinyaa’áanii and born for Kinyaa’áanii. Her maternal grandfather is Tódích’íi’nii, and her paternal grandfather is Tábąąhá.
Willie said it has always been his initiative to pick up a public service position, especially for his home chapter, Bahastł’ah, New Mexico.
“I grew up inside chapter meetings,” he said. “To see the progress that has been taking place the last four years, I’ve never been this involved with government before at this level. It’s been encouraging me to take this initiative even more.”
The Nez administration appointed Willie executive director for the Division of Economic Development in January 2019. In April that year, Council approved his appointment to the position that oversees the division’s internal evaluation process.
He had told Council that restructuring the division’s departments and plans of operation are priorities as transitions in energy, transparency, and federal programs take place.
“I’ve never been this involved with government before at this level,” Willie said. “And it’s encouraging me to want to take this initiative more.
“I was actually looking to sit back and wait, but really listening, observing, and being among our people,” he said, “and working with all the five chapters that I come from. And even all the 110 that I work under.”
Willie said his work with economic development opened a different perspective for him, seeing that chapters have so many opportunities that they don’t know about. He said he can help them reach their potential.
“That’s been my main motivating factor to get to this point,” he added. “And I have officially filed.”
Willie is the son of Jimmy and Thomasina Willie. He is Tábąąhá and born for Bitáá’chii’nii. His maternal grandfather is Áshįįhí and his paternal grandfather is Kiyaa’áanii.
He is a Window Rock High alumnus and earned a master’s in public administration from the University of New Mexico.