The Latest: New Navajo president may halt a remote development

Russell Begaye is an opponent of the proposed Grand Canyon Escalade $1 billion tourism project.

  • Navajo President Russell Begaye

    Light Language Studios

Last summer, incumbent Navajo President Ben Shelly unexpectedly came in seventh out of 17 candidates in the primary, disrupting the country’s largest sovereign Indian nation. It appeared that Joe Shirley Jr., a former two-time president, would face newcomer Chris Deschene in the presidential runoff, but Deschene was disqualified, purportedly because he wasn’t fluent in Navajo (“A question of fluency on the Navajo Nation,” HCN, 12/22/14). A legal and cultural battle erupted, all nine members of the Board of Election Supervisors were removed, and the election was delayed.

In an April 21 special election, businessman Russell Begaye defeated Shirley, 63 percent to 37 percent. This may hinder the proposed Grand Canyon Escalade, a controversial but economically appealing $1 billion tourist development on the reservation. Begaye’s priorities include jobs and infrastructure, but he says the Escalade isn’t the answer: “We need to involve … the voice of the local people, rather than allowing big corporations to make those decisions.”

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