Tribal Economies

Navajo President Jonathan Nez holds the tribe’s primary lead


FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. — Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez took the lead in the tribe’s primary election on Tuesday, followed by Buu Nygren, a former running mate.

Navajo voters decided which two of 15 presidential candidates they wanted to run in the tribe’s general election in November. Nez and Nygren led the pack with about 80 of 110 precincts reported, according to unofficial Navajo Election Administration results.

They were attended by attorney Justin Jones and former tribal attorney general Ethel Branch. Potentially thousands of votes were still up in the air Tuesday night in some of the reservation’s most crowded locations.

Candidates set up tents across the Navajo Nation on Tuesday, offering fried bread and other food to voters as they made one last campaign push. Election Day is a social event in the Navajo Nation, although some precautions were still in place due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Candidate platforms included economic development, ensuring Navajo people have basic infrastructure such as running water and electricity, and finding ways to preserve the Navajo language. They also pledged to pressure the federal government to fulfill its duty to provide public safety, health care and education to the tribe.

More than 123,000 Navajos have registered to vote in the primary, which is being held on the same day as the Arizona primary. The tribe typically records a turnout of around 50%. Polls closed at 7 p.m. Mountain Time.

Election workers were reporting results from an athletic center in the tribal capital of Window Rock that was closed to the public this year due to coronavirus precautions.

The Navajo Nation is the largest Native American reservation in the United States, covering 27,000 square miles (69,930 square kilometers) of high desert, forests, windswept mesas and mountains bordering New Mexico, Arizona and Utah. Its population of 406,000 is second only to the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma.

Nez says he will bring continuity to tribal government at a time when he is tasked with spending more than $1 billion in federal coronavirus relief funding.

Nygren, who was running for vice president in 2018, considers himself a diplomat capable of working with tribal lawmakers.

Jones said he would untangle Navajo regulations to better support small businesses.

Branch is one of six vying to become the first woman to lead the Navajo Nation. The others are: educator Dolly Mason; academic Leslie Tsosie; Chinle Chapter President Rosanna Jumbo-Fitch; Frankie Davis, who advocated for natural resource extraction; former New Mexico State Legislator Sandra Jeff; and Emily Ellison, who says she will push the federal government to give the Navajo Nation title to their lands if elected.

The other candidates are: Greg Bigman, chairman of the Diné College Board of Regents; former Navajo Vice President Frank Dayish; Earl Sombrero, director of the Ts’ah Bii Kin chapter; and Dineh Benally and Kevin Cody, who both sought the Tribal Presidency in 2018.