Shonto to vote on form of governance

SHONTO--On Oct. 2 the Shonto community kicked off a drive to turn out voters for the first special election to restructure local government for an LGA-certified chapter. There will be only one question on the Nov. 8 ballot: "Shall the Council of Nat'aa/Atsilasdai be adopted as the Shonto Chapter form of governance?"

Asking the voters this one question is a milestone on a long road of firsts for Shonto Chapter, a road made possible by the Navajo Nation Tribal Council when it passed the historic Local Governance Act (LGA), Title 26, in April 1998. In April 2001, the Transportation and Community Development Committee passed policies and procedures giving LGA-certified chapters the power to establish alternative forms of governance.

Over 40 residents attended the information session at the chapter house. In the weeks leading up to this important election, residents will be going throughout the community encouraging people to vote. At least half of all voters registered with Shonto Chapter must turn out for this special election. Since the total number of voters is close to 1,100, this means that at least 550 voters must cast their ballots at the polls on Nov. 8, or the election offices by Nov. 4.

Shonto leads towards self-determination

In Sept. 1999, Shonto Chapter was the first to earn LGA certification status. From that point, the community began to transition to self-rule as Shonto Community Governance (SCG).

Self-determination has formed Shonto's Community-Based Land Use Plan, visionary economic development strategies, and new partnerships with agencies and organizations. In Jan. 2005, Shonto became the first to give its council delegate and grazing official voting power on the Executive Planning Committee. On Nov. 8, the chapter will be the first to hold a special election on restructuring local governance.

Saturday's session was facilitated by Anson Arviso, ABC, Inc., and attended by the chapter's elected officials. Residents at the meeting recommended voting for the referendum.

"This system that we been living under for over 70 years was made for us by Washington," one elder stated, "and we were made to follow along. By voting for the Council of Nat'aa we are taking a stance for our own way of community planning."

Nat'aa/Atsilasdai structure

As developed during six years of community and chapter meetings, the proposed Council of Nat'aa/Atsilasdai structure includes the current five elected officials and regional representatives, one each from the Four Directions, appointed by the community's General Assembly. In each of the four seasons, a General Assembly, based on the current 25-member quorum system, would ratify council actions, make recommendations, and enact resolutions and ordinances.

Shonto's innovation provides for governance based on the traditional Navajo principles of Nits‡h‡kees (thinking), Nahat‡ (planning), Iin‡ (implementation), and Siihasin (assessment), as related to the Four Directions and the Four Sacred Mountains. As the community members explained, this system is non-hierarchical. The four community representatives have the same power as the other officials, while the General Assembly provides the avenue for on-going community input. A diagram was presented that demonstrated how the governance structure is integrated with the Navajo way of life.

Community supports restructuring

Participants at the meeting supported the Council of Nat'aa/Asilasdai as proposed in the special referendum.

"Our cultural teaching is intertwined into this form of government," an elder explained, "because each position or aspect of this governance structure connects our way of making decisions. All these things are the same all the time throughout Navajo philosophy. There is no separation."

Another resident stated, "We are thinking down the road that we will not lose the Navajo way of life because the Council of Nat'aa is a teaching tool for our younger generations. This way, our whole government system is tied into keeping our traditions alive. We have a reason why things are set up the way they are, as opposed to the way that Washington imposes outside things on us."

Other speakers said that the special referendum is an opportunity to implement self-governance utilizing Navajo philosophy that was orally passed down through generations. As one elder summarized, "This form of government will connect our generations and bring us into harmony."

AGODC develops ordinance

Shonto's Alternative Governance Ordinance Development Committee (AGODC)--formed in 2004 by chapter resolution--developed the restructuring ordinance and ballot language. Residents, in a series of community meetings, selected the Council of Nat'aa structure from the LGA legislation and modified it so that power is distributed between an inclusive elected council and citizen's General Assembly.

Current Chapter officials, President Jones Grass, Vice-President Jonathan M. Nez, and Secretary/Treasurer Robert Black Jr., stressed that the people are the ones driving this process towards a more harmonious and effective form of governance. All three acknowledge previous chapter officials who took the initiative and community members who have kept the momentum going.

Black informed the community that the Alternative Form of Governance Policies and Procedures require that one-half of the total registered voters must turn out to vote. "Since Shonto has 1,067 voters," he explained, "at least 534 voters must cast ballots. Of that number, at least 268 must vote yes in order for the referendum to pass." Organizing full voter turnout for the Nov, 8 election is critical for community members to have a voice in their future.

In summarizing the process, Nez said, "This is government reform from the Shonto grassroots people, which ignited can have a domino effect throughout the whole Navajo Nation. The Tribal Council had the vision for empowerment. They opened the doors for the Chapters to be self-sufficient and self-determined. We take up the challenge to implement those changes."

The special election will be held at the Shonto Chapter House. Polls are open from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. Additionally, Shonto registered voters may cast absentee ballots by walking in to any Navajo Nation Election Office by Nov. 4. Office locations, with their toll-free numbers, are: Crownpoint, 888-508-6870; Shiprock, 866-659-5842; Tuba City, 888-508-4970; and Window Rock, 800-775-8683.

Complete special election information, referendum language and voting details are available on the Chapter's web site at www.shonto.org; at the Chapter House in Shonto Canyon; or by phone at 928-672-2910. Another community information session will be held on Sunday, November 6, at 1 p.m. in the Shonto Chapter House.

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