Can Lynda Lovejoy Lead The Navajo Nation?
By Kathy Helms
FORT DEFIANCE – About the only straight answers that came out of Tuesday evening's Navajo Nation presidential and vice presidential candidate debate were that the Navajo Nation Council should not act on the proposed Northeastern Arizona water rights settlement, and it's OK for a woman to lead the Nation if she is qualified.
Presidential candidates Lynda Lovejoy and Ben Shelly, and vice presidential candidates Earl Tulley and Rex Lee Jim fielded questions from students for nearly two hours about jails, gangs, role models, traditional values, lack of jobs, transportation needs for handicapped individuals, obesity, teen suicide, and ill-treatment of Navajos who go to tribal offices for assistance. Based on candidate responses, there are no easy answers.
The event was presented by the Beautiful Life with Hope Coalition and moderated by former Miss Navajo Nation Jocelyn Billy and “DJ Abel Rock” Jason Allison of the Office of Youth Development.
Window Rock High School student Mathew Coonsis, 17, asked the candidates how they felt about the possibility of the Navajo Nation losing their water rights to the United States government. Allison, who moderated the question, left it up to the candidates as to who would respond.
Vice President Ben Shelly told the audience that there are 57 chapters that would be impacted by the proposed water rights settlement, now on tabled status pending a special Navajo Nation Council session, and the Navajo people are saying 31,000 acre feet is not enough.
“If the water rights are approved at 31,000 acre feet, then what happens in the future when we need more water? This is where a lot of people out there in the Arizona area are concerned,” he said. “The dilemma is what is the tribal Council going to do. ... My recommendation to the tribal Council is they need to put this aside for now and educate the people, then see what is the right thing to do.”
In addition, Shelly said that if Council approves the settlement, “it also means we stop complaining about the energy companies like Peabody and other people that are coming on as energy companies. We cannot complain about them because once we approve the water rights, that's it. We have 31,000 acre feet.”
Tulley, formerly a member of of Dine Citizens Against Ruining Our Environment, said the water that would be given to municipalities in southern Arizona amounts to 325,851 gallons. Divided among 300,000 Navajos over 365 days, that gives a person only 93 gallons.
“That is only those that are living here. Once that water right is signed, those new Navajos that are going to be born into the tribe, they have no water. It is imperative that the Navajo Nation quit giving away its resources. ... We roll over, and we're good Indians. In our particular administration, any negotiation is going to benefit Navajo,” he said.
The Lovejoy/Tulley administration will have “Navajo minds, Navajo intellect, Navajo know-how to negotiate on behalf of Navajo, he said. “It is important that we tell this Navajo Nation Council, 'Do not act on this until the next administration comes in,' because they have had this for some time. The people only heard about this in August.” He said pages 54 and 55 of the document limit Navajo.
Shelly said his administration's position is “we're not approving this water right. We want to take another look at it and have input and see what is it that we really want.” Navajo should not be pushed into approving it in the final hour, he said.
Tulley told the audience, “Water is sacred. Water is not a secret. For that very purpose we need to take care of our water. That is liquid gold. If you take a look at Navajo Generating Station, we give up 34,000 acre feet of water. If we were to sell that at $250 per acre foot, that is $8.2 million for youth employment, for scholarships.”
Skyler Morgan of Window Rock High School told the presidential candidates, “We always hear of our Navajo Nation not having jail space and people who commit crimes get out too soon. Do you think this is a problem and how will it be addressed? The reason for this is some of our peers think nothing will happen to them if they commit crimes.”
Lovejoy said the Navajo Nation has struggled with inadequate jail space and funding issues, and her administration plans to address that. How, she didn't say exactly. “Just building jails is not enough. We need to look at our laws and see how we can redefine or modify our laws to include harassment, include crimes on youth, include laws and policies that will truly protect our families, our children from crimes. Those are things that we intend to look to immediately. We tend to make family a priority. With healthy families there's less crime,” she said.
Shelly said he believes that one of the things they need to take another look at is k'e. “The Dine way of law versus the statutory law is very hard to deal with at this point in time. How do we change the law from Dine Fundamental Law to statutory law to make it work?” He said it was going to be tough and they needed to have public hearings on that.
Moderator Allison told the candidates he didn't think either of them addressed Morgan's question. “As a moderator I have a right to say that.”
Hannah Yazzie, a student at the University of New Mexico, asked candidates, “Do you think we have a gang problem? Tell us about it and what will your administration do to stop it.”
Shelly said the problem with gangs goes back to the home environment. “We need to love our kids and hug them every morning, because gangs are looking for something like love – lack of love – and they're the ones that are providing that. A lot of young kids are seeking love.”
He said the way to prevent gangs is to expose them. “A lot of us are too afraid to report this, and it's happening right under our nose. We do not tell on them and we are afraid of them, and they know we're afraid of them. That's why they do what they do. They also know our laws are very weak.” If a child feels loved, he said, gangs would have a hard time recruiting them. He also recommended educating the community on how to handle gangs.
Lovejoy said she believes there is a gang problem. “Our administration, our platform is about strengthening families. Gangs learn from adults who model bad attitude, poor attitude. They also learn from dysfunctional families, and so our children pick up from things that are modeled. We want to put a lot of effort and a lot of attention to correcting or making a strong initiative in correcting gangs and abusiveness by also bringing in elders and parents who can redevelop our value system.”
She said that if they can go back and re-educate families on values such as k'e, “then the next generation, we can begin to change a lot of those bad habits and bad attitudes.” She said gangs are a problem because parents are not paying attention to their children and are not disciplining them.
Vice presidential candidates were asked how they felt about a woman running for Navajo Nation president when it goes against Navajo traditional values for women to hold a position of a nataani.
“There are different views,” Jim said, “and for me, as a medicine man and an educated Navajo, I truly believe that all people should be given the opportunities and chances based on their qualifications and not because they're a woman or they belong to a certain religious party or political party or they come from a prestigious family. All people should have the opportunity to advance themselves.”
Tulley said there have been many sacrifices that have been delivered to all Navajos. “The women that walked back from Hweeldi, do you think that they spoke less of women? No, they did not. Their whole point was Navajo is going to lead Navajo. This country desires what you and I have as Navajo people. There is no other ethnic group in this country where only tribal members will lead. Other people are looking up to us as well.
“One of the difficulties that we often have is the translation and the interpretation thereof. There are many, many different stories. I have three young ladies that I have raised, my wife and I. We do not expect them do anything other than their best,” he said. “The Creator has given us a destiny. It is up to us to make manifest our particular talents.”
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