Opinion: The power of Navajo voters in jeopardy

The following was submitted by Lester K. Tsosie, the brother of New Mexico State Sen. Leonard Tsosie, who is in tribal court over his ability to serve the Navajo Nation Council and the New Mexico Legislature at the same time.

Navajo citizens, our Navajo democracy is in jeopardy! On January 3, 2007, an entity of the Navajo Nation government invalidated the at-large votes of the Pueblo Pintado, Torreon, and Whitehorse Lake chapters while addressing the Council Delegate-Elect Leonard Tsosie case. The administrative hearing officer might have intended on ruling on a specific case, yet her ruling has broad frightening implications for the Navajo voter.

Navajo vote is our voice and foundation for our Navajo democracy. And she unilaterally is threatening to silence the voice of the Navajo people in the three chapters. If an administrative hearing officer can unjustly and blatantly squash votes in these three chapters, what will prevent another one from doing so elsewhere across the Navajo Nation?

The United States constitution, under the 26th Amendment, unambiguously state that “the right of citizens of the United States…to vote shall not be denied or abridged…” For all citizens, including Native Americans, a person in this country can freely elect the candidate of her choice, a candidate who will ultimately impact her own quality of life. This basic right underpins the American democracy for all citizens.

Under strict observation guaranteeing the 26th Amendment, Navajo people freely choose their leaders to represent them in federal, state, county, and other local elected offices. We proudly cast ballots for each of these offices, our Navajo voice for democratic representation in the greater republic where we are a part of a multicultural constituency in which diversifying resource allocation is key to equal protection and representation.

We participate in this democracy because we inherently selected leaders protecting our Navajo homeland for centuries – a geo-political sphere that has been incorporated into the United States political landscape. We are only incorporating our American political landscape participation into our own centuries-old Navajo democracy.

Before the 26th Amendment, the Navajo people have selected their leaders in an unhindered way for decades, an unswerving tenet of Navajo democracy. In early Navajo history, elders talk of how Naach’id – a communal choosing of the right spokesperson for the clan community – was the way Navajos freely chose their leaders. They unreservedly have elected leaders that best represented them in a consensus form of democracy.

Just recently in the 2006 election, we freely elected our leaders again. For example, a grandmother voted for her choice of a Navajo president. A sheepherder voted for his choice for the Board of Election Supervisors. A college student elected a Council Delegate. This practice of freely selecting a leader is a Diné fundamental right that underpins our Navajo democracy. Quoting Ramsey Clark, “a right is not what someone gives you; it’s what no one can take from you.” Likewise, a Navajo Nation administrative officer can not take what she can never give: Our Navajo vote is a right we will hold sacred eternally.

Even though each Navajo is rightly represented in the United States democracy through elections of a president, senator, congressman, and numerous local elected officials, each of us also cast a Navajo Nation vote. We don’t have to, but we do. In fact, we overwhelmingly do in comparison to federal and state election turnouts.

This Navajo Nation vote is genuinely different than the federal or state voting. The Navajo Nation vote is an affirmation of who we are: an indigenous populace on a homeland. It’s an affirmation of Navajo identity, Navajo culture, Navajo language, Navajo sovereignty, Navajo community, Navajo resources, Navajo allegiance, and, perhaps, most importantly, Navajo voice. Our Navajo vote is our clear, booming voice for a better tomorrow enriched with our beautiful Navajo heritage.

The “Our Navajo Vote is Sacred” march is set for Tuesday, January 17, from Whitehorse Lake Chapter House to Pueblo Pintado Chapter House beginning at 10 am. Another march will start from Torreon Chapter House and ending at Pueblo Pintado Chapter House at the same time. Join these social justice advocates in the march and make a stand for what is just and right. For more information on this march, call (505) 604-7696.

Relevant Links:
Navajo Nation Council - http://www.navajonationcouncil.org

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