Hopefuls Spar in ‘Job Interview’ to Become President of Navajo Nation

Navajo Times | Ravonelle Yazzie
Navajo Nation presidential candidates wait their turn to speak at the first candidates’ forum sponsored by the Navajo Times and KTNN Monday.

Published June 25, 2018

CROWNPOINT – Candidate for Navajo Nation president and former president Joe Shirley Jr. described Monday night’s presidential forum as a “job interview.”

Shirley is one of 18 vying for the same job. Although he may have the most experience, having held the position for two terms, he is going up against current President Russell Begaye, Vice President Jonathan Nez, former vice president Rex Lee Jim, Council delegates Alton Joe Shepherd and Tom Chee, first Navajo Nation chief justice Tom Tso, former delegate Hope MacDonald Lonetree, newcomers Nick X. Taylor, Emily Ellison, Calvin Lee Jr., Norman Patrick Brown, Vincent Yazzie, Shawn Redd, and former vice presidential candidate Dineh Benally. Three candidates failed to show up for the forum – Benny Bahe, Trudie Jackson and Kevin Cody.

“There’s this job and 18 people have applied for it,” said Shirley. “Wherever we go we are being interviewed. I hope to be president once more but I know there are 17 others who want that job. For me it’s God willing and the people willing.” Before the forum started, booths were setup outside for voters to stop by and talk with the presidential hopefuls.

As a delegate, Shepherd is the chair of the Resource and Development Committee, and, like Shirley, is an Apache County supervisor. Like other candidates, Shepherd credited constituents for pushing him to run. “It was more and more people asking if I was throwing in my name, not just from my own area but from all over,” said Shepherd.

So how did the evening go for the job seekers? Well, for starters, the candidates spoke more English than Navajo. Some were not fluent Navajo speakers and this comes after a 2015 referendum where voters voted to change the language qualification from “must be fluent Navajo speaker” to “candidate’s ability to speak and understand Navajo determined by voters.” “Just because all our people don’t speak Diné doesn’t make them any less Diné,” said Taylor during his introduction.

Editor’s Note: This article was first published in the Navajo Times. Used with permission. All rights reserved. 

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