Utah Diné urged to register, vote down Prop 10
No one likes change and San Juan County is no different.
During a press conference Tuesday at the Quality Inn, President Jonathan Nez, former chairman and president Peterson Zah, and San Juan County Commission Chairman Kenneth Maryboy discussed the need for San Juan County residents to vote “no” on Proposition 10 during a special election Nov. 5.
Rather than embracing change that comes from having – for the first time in county history – a majority of two Navajo San Juan commissioners, some county residents held a petition drive to hold a special election in order to establish a study committee, which would reform the county government.
Maryboy and many other Utah Navajos view the move as an attempt to gain back white majority leadership. The petition organizers have denied that.
“Things are still not working out,” said Maryboy, who is also a former Council delegate. “A group of people keep coming in. ‘We don’t like the way you’re running our county government. You’re running the motions like you do on the Navajo Nation.’”
Changes made by the new commission include going out to Navajo communities and holding San Juan Commissioners meetings there, which Maryboy said was so foreign that the county attorney tried to stop them. The commissioners have met in Monument Valley, Oljato, Navajo Mountain. They plan to continue this trend.
Another change is San Juan County’s position on Bears Ears National Monument, since Maryboy and his Navajo colleague, Willie Greyeyes, support restoring the monument to its former size.
Their Anglo colleague, Bruce Adams, voted against changing the county’s stance, which originally was that the monument should be abolished altogether.
“There was never a time that the county went out to the communities to have a meeting,” said Maryboy. “Elders come in and sit down … ‘We don’t want to drive all the way to Moab or Monticello. That’s too far. Now we can actually see a county commissioners meeting, we appreciate that.’”
But all these changes are at risk if the county government is reformed to add two more commissioners, who would probably be Anglo and revert the balance of power back to the county’s white minority.
This is why Maryboy said it is vital for Navajos to be registered to vote.
“A citizen group opposing Native Americans as a leadership is going to be given an opportunity … to be on the study group,” said Maryboy. “That’s going to be the majority position on that. That’s scary.”
Utah chapters Delegate Charlaine Tso, was not present at the press conference but was contacted by the Navajo Times in a phone interview, said she is against Proposition 10 and hopes that her San Juan County constituents will vote against what she said is another way of overpowering the Navajo commissioners so they will ultimately lose the majority vote.
“It boils down to racism against Navajos,” said Tso, “as well as wanting to divide the county lines and adding more commissioners so the Navajo commissioners won’t have overall power or say-so.”
These types of divisive county tactics are nothing new and they can be found in other counties such as Navajo and Apache counties in Arizona.
Nez, who served as a Navajo County supervisor as well as Council delegate, said Navajos fought hard for representation in the county that ironically bears their name.
“It’s been several years now,” said Nez. “The citizens of Navajo County have gotten used to having three of the five supervisors that are Native Americans.”
The apparent divisiveness, discrimination and hate happening in Washington, D.C., has trickled into other levels of government and San Juan County is just one example, said Nez.
“We, as citizens, can push back on that,” said Nez. “It’s been 150-plus years … the ancestors who were divided and chased off of Bears Ears, hiding out in Bears Ears fighting for their lives, fighting for their ways to continue – fast forward … they’re still doing the same thing. I applaud those descendants for pushing back on discrimination and racism.”
If a non-Navajo campaigned hard and gained the trust of the Navajo people in San Juan County they could be elected, said Nez, who also emphasized the need for Diné to register and vote.
A similar history can be found in Apache County, whose government tried to keep the first Navajo Apache County supervisor, Tom Shirley, from taking his rightful office after defeating a white opponent. This case went to the Arizona Supreme Court, which ruled in Shirley’s favor.
This case also sparked Zah and his wife Rosalind Zah to get into public service.
“One day somebody told them, ‘Hey, why don’t you guys just get to used to it?’” reminisced Zah. “You would think 30 years later people would learn from that, but look what’s happening in San Juan County.”
Maryboy said even if almost 60 percent of the population in San Juan County is Navajo, it’s not the majority who wins, but the majority of voters.
He said one major difference between the Navajos and the white people who live in the county is Navajos are reluctant to register, but the white voters are encouraged to register to vote.
“They really encourage one another to register to vote,” said Marboy. “I need your help to reach out and let them know the importance in knowing to exercise that freedom.”
A anti-Prop 10 rally is scheduled for this coming Sunday, Nov. 3, at Mexican Water Chapter House.