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Published On: Sun, Feb 10th, 2013

THE NAVAJO PRESIDENT: A test of Leadership

Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly. Navajo Nation Inaugural Reception. Jan. 20, 2013. Photo by Megan Witt.

The Navajo Nation President is faced with a crisis, as they try to fix the broken water pipes. A cold front not only brought freezing temperatures, but busted underground water pipes leaving 10,000 people without water to drink or bathe in throughout the 27,000 mile reservation.

As the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority is fixing the broken water pipes, President Ben Shelly remains resolve as he unites and looks forward to heal the division among his people.

President Shelly may not be the most resilient Tribal leader, but his mission is clear. Shelly asked FEMA for $2.6 million for relief efforts to fix the broken water pipes. Officials say they would like to get the people water to drink and bathe in.

“We need to continue funding the Operation Winter Freeze. People with health risks don’t have running water; some communities have low water pressures that are putting health centers and hospitals at risk of closure. We are facing an emergency that is putting lives at risk,” said President Ben Shelly.

This is not the first time this President has seen a test of his leadership, Last year rumors spread of Sen. John McCain and Jon Kyle visit echoed through the reservation of a ‘secret meeting.’

Later, the Shelly administration said they met with the Washington senators to discuss the Navajo-Hopi Little Colorado River Water settlement Act of 2012, a bill sponsored by McCain and Kyle.

That bill came with some protest and the Navajos later repudiated it. Today the water bill is dry and nothing else became of the widely contested meeting.

New Mexico and the Navajo Nation

Shelly spoke at the New Mexico Joint Legislative Session in Sante Fe last week in an effort to solidify the Navajo Nation goals.

“We must find new ways to partner and address issues that are important to our constituents. We must grow our economies, create jobs, and build infrastructure, while maintaining basic services. Let’s all work together and do our best to serve the people that put us here. We owe it to them,” he said in a 10 minutes speech.

Shelly also praised Senate bill 76, which will appropriate $1.44 million to New Mexico State University to grow fresh produce, Shelly has been looking for alternative in energy.

The President also refreshed the relationship with the State of New Mexico and appears to have a working relationship with Gov. Susana Martinez.

We’ve built a bridge with Israel

Last year, the President traveled to ‘Gods land’ Israel to explore their agriculture and technology, Shelly said he wanted to see how they conserve water in agribusiness. He visited thousands of acres of farming land and green houses in Israel’s Negev. They also traveled to Israeli southern desert between Jordan and Egypt, he made it clear Navajos need a new direction. “Agriculture is just one part of our drive to economic prosperity,” said Shelly.

Shelly also said they partnered with a University from Israel to start a foreign exchange program for Navajos. He also published his accomplishments on a tabloid style print and issued it on their tribally owned publication the Navajo Times last week.

He said, “I am pleased to present this report to the Navajo Nation to let them know that the Shelly and Jim administration has been hard at work for the people of the Navajo Nation. We have completed many projects, but we have many more to complete. The Navajo people elected the Shelly and Jim administration because we promised change and this report shows them the changes we have made them,”

Shelly was able to secure $52 million for new projects on the Navajo Nation, which included renovations of nine Senior centers. Moreover, Navajo Transit a tribally owned transportation company, which caters to over 200,000 people got $3 million in funding and a new electric bus.

The largest project is the Navajo Gallup Water supply water project, which is estimated to be over $1 billion and will bring over 600 jobs to the reservation. The tribe will also have three new tribal jails and more correctional staff can be brought on with the department of public safety.

Shelly also challenged the council to approve his new Energy policy to lay down the foundation of steering away from coal and to go after bigger things like renewable energy, solar power, and more environmentally safe initiatives for the tribe.


Next year, Shelly is up for reelection. The Shelly team has not made an officials announcement, but Window Rock insiders say he will run for a second term. The President may see some new faces in this presidential election.

People who are close with the council members say Kathaleen Benally, Russell Begay, and Leonard Tsosie may take a run in 2014.

In Navajo politics, you really can’t tell who will run, until the last minute. The communication line is a little different on the reservation. It’s clear; Mr. Shelly will face a tough reelection battle for a second term as more Navajos become involved in running for the highest office in the Navajo Nation.

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THE NAVAJO PRESIDENT: A test of Leadership