Joe Shirley Jr. (right) and Chris Deschene head into November with sites set on the Navajo Presidency.

Shirley v. Deschene: Traditional v. New Generation for Navajo President

Alysa Landry

Joe Shirley Jr., the Navajo Nation’s only two-term president, has a shot at a third term.

Voters during Tuesday’s primary election selected Shirley and Chris Deschene from a list of 17 presidential candidates, which featured seasoned politicians, newcomers and the sitting president. Sixteen men and one woman from locations all over the 27,000-square-mile reservation vied for a chance at the tribe’s top elected position. Nine were from Arizona, seven from New Mexico and one from Utah.

Shirley, of Chinle, Arizona, and Deschene, of LeChee, Arizona, will face off during the November 4 general election.

Shirley, who served back-to-back terms from 2003 to 2011, led the polls with 10,910 votes, according to unofficial results released late Tuesday. In his campaign, Shirley promised to serve with “heart, integrity, diplomacy and sacredness of mind.”

Deschene, a first-time presidential candidate and a former Arizona state representative, earned 9,734 votes. He pointed to his 10 years of service in the U.S. Marine Corps and work as a tribal energy attorney as he campaigned for a “new generation of leadership.”

Russell Begaye, a one-term delegate to the Navajo Nation Council, came in third with 7,404 votes, followed by Donald Benally, who finished third in the 2010 presidential election, and Edison Wauneka, executive director of the Navajo Election Administration.

The incumbent, Ben Shelly, came in seventh with 2,446 votes. In a statement to Navajo Times late Tuesday, Shelly said his political service is over.

“The people have spoken, as you know,” he said. “I got a lot of projects that would have supplied a lot of jobs, but the people couldn’t see that. My political career ends here.”

The general election promises more than a race between a familiar face and a newcomer, however, said Ron Wood, a political insider and author of a White Paper released earlier this year calling for reform in the tribal government. Shirley, who speaks fluent Navajo, campaigned by singing traditional songs, greeting voters in Navajo and offering traditional meals. Deschene, who does not speak fluent Navajo, earned support from the more contemporary crowd, Wood said.

“We’ve got the traditional candidate who appeals to the older, traditional Navajos, and the younger candidate who represents the new generation,” he said. “I think that’s what this election is going to hinge on.”

Another determining factor could be candidates for vice president, Wood said. According to Navajo law, the two candidates have five days to pick running mates.

“That’s going to be a big deal for a lot of people,” he said.

More than 114,000 Navajos were registered to vote in the primary election, which also included 312 candidates for 24 seats on the Navajo Nation Council and representatives for the Board of Election Supervisors, the Navajo Board of Education and some local school boards.

A total of 51,300 votes were cast in the presidential race, according to the Election Administration.

Here are the unofficial results for all 17 presidential candidates:

Joe Shirley, Jr. – 10,910

Chris Deschene – 9,734

Russell Begaye – 7,404

Donald Benally – 5,286

Kenneth Maryboy – 3,153

Edison J. Wauneka – 2,454

Ben Shelly – 2,446

Myron McLaughlin – 2,333

Carrie Lynn Martin – 2,136

Dale E. Tsosie – 1,278

Duane H. Yazzie – 1,112

Moroni Benally – 965

Cal Nez – 592

Edison Begay – 547

Hank Whitethorne – 398

Kee Yazzie Mann – 336

Dan Smith – 216

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bullbear's picture
Submitted by bullbear on
Its time to step aside Joe Shirley. You have done your service and we appreciate it. Mr. Deschene has experience working in-house at Arizona state congress, plus he took the bull by the horns and pushed through the first-ever tribal legislative action against the continued use of Washington Redsk*ins mascot name. Maybe Chris does not speak Navajo fluently, but he has proven working knowledge when it comes to effective legislative action, locally and at the state level, which has conceivable impact upon federal working relationships with the state and tribes. We have heard far too long from the elders to its youth, "go get an education and come back to help your help people." That time has already passed - give the youth the reins - they will be charged with taking care of the elders, so put some faith into their abilities, God-given talents and dedication to their peers and their communities.

100IndigenousAmerican's picture
Submitted by 100IndigenousAm... on
Hindsight is always more vivid, I am sure Joe had plenty of time to reflect on what direction the tribe should take, and what priorities we should establish as a tribe. Respect for the elderly, the language and the spiritual beliefs are not an alien component of being Navajo regardless of age. One problem facing all tribes is the strata of intellectual development that makes us divisive long after the elections are over. Some of us recklessly create express labels as if only the young are walking the homelands. We are families in communities, and we live in an array of financial inequalities. People forget lawyers are preying on “Dinetah”, and they do the same to Indian people in all U.S. tribal neighborhoods. We behind in assessments because the B.I.E. is clueless that the educational leadership at all levels is inept, they blame teachers, and it now has become a relentless drive to acculturate and assimilate at every level. Housing is elusive because the financial structure is not design for the Dine' conditions. Healthcare is in the same quagmire; contract health is the same as contract schools, super ineffective and about self-priorities of leadership. Joe talk about all these issues, and my family and I support Joe because we are still believe in sheep herding although it is a constant negative income endeavor, but dang, some things are more important than the “Bilaganna” frog skins with Andrew Jackson's face on it.

tmsyr11's picture
Submitted by tmsyr11 on
Indian country has already SEEN and WITNESSED what one particularly LAWYER/ATTORNEY/JD can do to a country/nation/people, it appears NAVAJO has no other choice but to watch what this newest LAWYER/ATTORNEY/JD can do, if even for a supposed Indian Nation (Navajo-Dinetah). My only wish for CDeschine is NOT to get sucked into non-DIRECT LIVLIHOOD topics as the Redskin fiasco, homosexuality, more Navajo casino-gaming?, etc. The ICMNT has an article of what Navajo people are faced with currently in Gallup NM. The people carry with them obvious impact of alcoholism, drug addiction that affects Navajo people and society. Drugs, and organized CRIME organizations (Gangs, Bullies) exercise GREAT control into local/regional Navajo communities. Will CDeschine take time to confront the CRIME and the rampant PROPERTY damage occuring in Navajo communities where in effect Navajo families are held HOSTAGE? How about repairing/replacing dlipated common utilities as Water, Sewage, Electrical, Sanitation? Will CDeshine inherently support such failed Navajo efforts in returning 96 MILLION Federal US HUA funds because the Navajo Nation failed to SPEND and provide housing to Navajo people? How will CDechine challenge or even confront instances of National Democratic "promises" of resources to be provided to the Navajo Nation and its people? How do legitimate Navajo needs or lack of services compare to the THOSE POLITICAL needs of illegal alien, or LATINO interests of millions and millions of families? Will CDechine STAND AND PROTECT Navajo NATION Claims and Navajo Rights to the Colorado River against HEAVY WEIGHT interests of Southern California, Arizona, Nevada? These are only a snippet of TRUE NAVAJO NATION concerns and priorities than to consumed over the political RACIAL debates tearing and ripping the United States Nation apart as a whole? So we'll see what this Navajo Attorney can do otherwise Navajo people - elderly, traditional, semi-conservative, will be looking to VOTE in 2018 and 're-elect' Dr. Joe SHirely, Jr…..again.