FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. — An ongoing political battle pitting the president of the vast Navajo Nation against the majority of the tribal council has left ordinary Navajos concerned that the politicians have become too engrossed in petty fights to do the work they were elected to do.
The Navajo Nation Council stripped President Joe Shirley Jr. of all his administrative powers in late October over so-far unsubstantiated allegations of ethical and criminal wrongdoing. The elected president’s supporters say the action came in retaliation for his push to reduce the tribe’s council from 88 to 24 members and secure a line-item veto on appropriations legislation. Critics on the council say Shirley is unfairly targeting them. More than a year after Shirley first raised the smaller-council issue, voters on the reservation that covers parts of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah will decide the issue later this month. The back-and-forth between the legislative and executive branches has created a sense of instability in what is still a relatively new form of government on the largest American Indian reservation. "We don’t have leadership,” said Wally Brown, a Navajo silversmith from Coppermine, N.M. "We have a bunch of people who seem to be focused on their individual agendas, and their individual agendas get in the way of things we really need to have Navajo Nation-wide.” Brown said he’s worried the council is pushing the tribe toward bankruptcy because of funds they are spending on pet projects.