Elsa Johnson: Looking back on election day on Navajo Nation

"On Election Day, my family drives in from various parts of the Southwest to vote at our home Navajo chapter, Forest Lake. My mother, who does not read or write English, is a faithful voter like many her age: 85-plus. One of us will drive her to the poll after she carefully dresses her Navajo best. Mother and all of us vote “long ears” (Democrat) as we say in Navajo. After casting her ballot, mother loves to mingle with relatives at nearby food stands. Navajos are very social people. Hot stew food, frybread and coffee is usually sold or served by local folks—within legal distance from the polling place, of course. This is because sometimes elders have to corral their sheep and go a distance to vote. Some hitchhike in. Sometimes folks size up the candidates. We don’t have a word for “candidate” so we refer to them as “lii” or horse —even most of the military code our Navajo Code Talkers devised was centered around animals.

I either vote absentee or go early so I can prepare a big feast for returning family members. One by one my siblings’ vehicles start arriving throughout the afternoon. After everyone votes, we gather around the dinner table — mother’s ten adult children and a number of her grandchildren. Her home is typically surrounded by 10 or more vehicles. We visit, laugh and eat, not necessarily in that order. Then, precisely at 7 p.m., I serve dessert and coffee and we turn on Navajo station KTNN to listen to the election results – no TV. This is the Johnson ritual every two years on the first Tuesday of November.

As I said, mother doesn’t read or write, but she has an overwhelming sense of duty—voting. Sometimes her “horse” does not win, but that doesn’t dishearten her. I admire her fortitude.

Get the Story:
An Election Day Tale From Elsa Johnson (Indian Country Today 11/4)

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