LEUPP, Ariz. - Members of the grassroots organization, Dine for Fair Governance (DFG), learned only days before a strategy meeting scheduled at Leupp Chapter on Martin Luther King Jr. Day that the grievance they had filed regarding the reduction of council delegates had been dismissed.
Rosita Kelly, a member of DFG, said in an interview on Jan. 18 that the organization had secured the services of Flagstaff attorney John Trebon to represent them at the hearing scheduled for Jan. 21.
"Then I heard that President Shirley had filed a motion to dismiss our grievance," Kelly said. "We hadn't received a copy of the actual motion, so I went to Window Rock last Thursday to receive a copy of the motion."
When she returned home Thursday evening, she learned that Shirley's motion for dismissal had been approved.
"How does that work? I thought we were supposed to have an opportunity to at least respond to the motion for dismissal," Kelly said. "I didn't know what was going on. Everywhere you go [legal systems] there are timelines, and people are given the time to respond to things like that."
Kelly said that she called Trebon and indicated that she wanted to appeal the dismissal, and was told that this could be done.
"Isn't part of Dine fundamental law that people be given the opportunity to be heard," Kelly asked?
Timothy Nelson, a Leupp resident, filed the grievance with the Office of Hearings and Appeals, but failed to join the Navajo Board of Election Supervisors and Navajo Nation Election Administration - who are "indispensible parties to this case," according to the order signed by Administrative Hearing Officer Karen Benally. Further, Benally wrote, "The Complaints contained in paragraphs 1 and 10 of the Statement do not allege noncompliance with the Election Code. The Office of Hearings and Appeals lacks authority to consider those complaints."
Finally, complaints raised in paragraphs 1, 4, 6 and 10 of the statement were untimely raised.
"We are not attorneys," Kelly said. "We are just ordinary citizens and we should still be heard. As long as there are judges in there and hearing officers that are siding with the president, we will never have the opportunity to be heard fairly."
According to Kelly, the fight is not over.
"I plan on appealing this," Kelly said. "I will ask for resolutions from other chapters, requesting that the delegates not support the reapportionment plan. The final decision lies with the council."
Kelly objects to Shirley's portrayal of the reapportionment having started with the grassroots people.
Chapter Delegate Leonard Chee [Leupp, Birdsprings and Tolani Lake] said that he wasn't surprised to learn of the dismissal.
"The simple majority does not change currently standing election laws - all are still intact," Chee said. "If you look at it this way, it doesn't change the election process. It does not replace the laws or support the reapportionment of the council."
"Come February, we still don't have a reapportionment plan with 24 seats," Chee added. "If I were to run, which district would I file under? The details were not spelled out in the ballots."
In response to how the issues of Leupp, Tolani Lake and Birdsprings differ from those of larger communities such as Shonto or Tuba City, Chee responded, "Our biggest issues here in Leupp are water development - getting water to homes and livestock. Even though we sit on a big aquifer, the water is unavailable. The need to develop it is the biggest need in District 5. Another issue is the need for power line extensions. Those bigger districts have power in their districts. Very few have no power and no running water, but here over 90 percent those who live west of the Colorado River and by the Bennett Freeze area live without infrastructure. Roads are another issue."
Chee feels that people who did vote in support of the reapportionment were misinformed, and acted in response to negative media circulating that painted delegates in a bad light.
"People voted for the change, not understanding the full impact of that change," Chee said. "I don't think they realized what that decision would mean about fair representation."
"We really feel that people were not educated on the initiatives," Kelly said. "There were not written plans in place. Elders were asking, 'What are we voting on? How will this affect us?'"
"Dine for Fairness in Government hopes, through seeking redress, to start contemplating other reformation ideas strategically, legally. The newly formed organization is on its way to become a strong and vibrant voice at the grass roots level," said Thomas Walker [Leupp, Birdsprings, and Tolani Lake]. "Members of the group are interested in starting their own initiatives to bring about change. Overall, I think that change is due for the Navajo Nation government. Change is good and can be healthy.
"I am not against change and reform, but I am for fair, clean elections," Walker continued. "Citizens deserve an electoral process that guarantees their right to participate. I would not object to the question of reapportionment being put before the citizens - but this election seems to have been ... forced on the people. It doesn't seem right to have a president [block] the questions of concerned citizens and deprive them of the opportunity to ask questions in a fair, legal forum.
Walker went on to say that he feels that President Shirley oversimplified the topic of reapportionment, and that there was never any analysis of what it would actually look like and that it's not simply a matter of taking 64 chairs out of the Navajo Nation Council Chambers.