Navajo voters deprived of fundamental rights, states lawsuit

A lawsuit, Edison Wauneka, et al . v. Edward T. Begay, et al. has been filed to halt the 2000 Navajo Chapter Election scheduled on September 5, an action which Navajo Nation Chief Legislative Counsel Steven Boos has called premature. The lawsuit against the members of the Intergovernmental Relations Committee and Legislative Services Director Rose Graham was made in violation of the Navajo Sovereign Immunity Act according to Navajo Nation Attorney General Levon Henry and Boos, who filed a Motion to Dismiss on August 17.

The lawsuit asks for declaratory and injunctive relief for the "hijack[ing] of the Navajo election process to prevent the Navajo people from exercising their rights to a democratically chosen, participatory government. Defendants have canceled, rescheduled and moved elections to confuse Navajo voters and prevent them from voting on an important issue of government structure."

Edison Wauneka, a delegate representing Crystal, Red Lake and Sawmill, has been traveling to communities across the reservation to explain the lawsuit to the people and why it is important. He was in Tuba City on August 19. "We feel that the Council has violated certain laws of the Navajo Nation, and has created a situation which represents a clear conflict of interest"—specifically, a special session of July 31 at which the Navajo Nation Council "purported to pass Resolution No. CJY-51-00 directing that the Election be held on August 1, 2000, waiving certain election laws; and removing the powers of the Board and the Navajo Election Administration."

The Intergovernmental Relations Committee has taken the place of the Board and the Council, Wauneka said, has no authority to impose these sanctions. Further, he pointed out, the Speaker of the Navajo Nation Council, the Council, and its lawyer do not have the legal authority to run an election and have no expertise in doing so, and because issues on the ballot will directly effect members of the Council, this situation is clearly a conflict of interest.

Of further concern to Wauneka and his co-plaintiffs, is his belief that Boos represented both the Board and the Council, which is another conflict of interest. If that were not enough, Wauneka is concerned that the language of the referendum as penned by the Council is not only confusing but also serves the Navajo people the opportunity to unwittingly vote to endorse the Council as "the governing body of the Navajo Nation." By voting for or against the reduction in council members the voter, said Wauneka, still affirms the Council as the governing body.

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