Duane “Chili” Yazzie is looking for 1,500 Navajo voters to chip in one dollar each.
During a special meeting April 12 at the Shiprock, New Mexico, Chapter House, Yazzie, a career politician and activist, officially announced his intention to run for president of the Navajo Nation. Promising a “down-home, homemade, grassroots, Hogan-level campaign,” Yazzie wants to start by raising asking supporters to help raise the $1,500 filing fee due May 28.
“We’ll start with my own four-year-old grandson,” Yazzie said. “If he doesn’t have one dollar in his pocket, we’ll donate a dollar for him. In the end, we’ll want 1,500 people coming forward with one dollar.”
Yazzie, 63, has spent more than 25 years in public service. Now serving in his third term as president of the Shiprock Chapter, he also has served as a tribal council delegate and was the first chairman of the Navajo Nation Human Rights Commission.
He hopes his grassroots approach to campaigning reflects a broad return to traditional Navajo principles. He is the only candidate so far to go through a traditional vetting process, which required Yazzie’s family and community to voice support before he agreed to run for office.
“It’s a formality, in the spirit of the old style, of seeking a person to do an important service,” he said. Yazzie only accepted when his mother and wife both gave their consent.
“If this is my life’s purpose, to serve in this capacity, I can’t deny that or rationalize it away and not do it,” he said. “That will do an injustice to the process and to the people who I can help in the long term.”
A growing number of candidates are vying for the office of the tribe’s top executive. So far, seven individuals have put their names in the hat, including the tribe’s only two-term president, Joe Shirley Jr., of Chinle, Arizona.
In the August 26 primary election, Yazzie also will face off against fellow Shiprock politician Donald Benally, who served as chapter vice president with Yazzie. The other candidates are Myron McLaughlin, Moroni Benally, Kenneth Maryboy and Chris Deschene. The two most popular candidates will compete in the November 4 general election.
The tribe’s eighth president will inherit myriad challenges, including a high unemployment rate, controversial energy policies and widespread government corruption. If elected, Yazzie wants to focus on government redesign done “cautiously, deliberately, courageously and comprehensively.”
“Our sovereignty is inherent and indigenous,” he told the Shiprock community on April 12. “We were blessed with it when the Great Creator placed us here. It is more unique than the man-made sovereignty of the United States federal government. It is imperative that we embolden ourselves armed with our sovereignty and make our way in life.”
The goal, Yazzie said, is to preserve the Diné way of life for generations in the future.
“When I look at my grandchildren and try to imagine where they will be in 50 years, it’s very troubling,” he said. “We need to do all we can to protect that future.”