Tribe grapples with prospect of female leader

In Navajo land, her candidacy unsettles some
2010-10-18T00:00:00Z Tribe grapples with prospect of female leader Arizona Daily Star
October 18, 2010 12:00 am

WINDOW ROCK - Lynda Lovejoy walks past throngs of parade-goers in her traditional crushed velvet dress and moccasins, her campaign button on the sleeve. Speaking through a microphone, she says she'll bring fresh perspective to the Navajo government if elected president.

Her supporters shout, "You go girl!"

Others at the parade in Window Rock clearly don't want to see her at the helm of the country's largest American Indian reservation. "I hope you lose," one man shouts, then covers his mouth and ducks into the crowd. Another woman declares support for Lovejoy's opponent: "We want Ben Shelly. Women belong in the kitchen."

No woman has served as Navajo president, although the matriarchal society has strong reverence for women as caretakers and heirs to everything from home site leases to sheep. When introducing themselves, Navajos start with their mother's clan name.

With Lovejoy garnering twice as many votes as any of the 10 men and a second woman in a recent primary, the Navajo Nation appears closer than ever to electing a woman as its leader. But that doesn't mean Lovejoy's candidacy is widely accepted as she and Shelly approach the Nov. 2 election.

The New Mexico state senator has been called an outsider who lacks experience in tribal government. She's been told she'll ruin a tradition in which all previous top leaders have been men. Some have attributed damaging weather events to her quest for the leadership.

Still others have hope she'll bring attention to social justice issues and increase job opportunities for younger people on the reservation.

Lovejoy grew up in Crownpoint, N.M. She shared a two-room hogan with 12 others and spent her days chopping firewood, herding sheep, hauling water and speaking Navajo.

She left the reservation for college and spent a few years working for the Navajo government before entering state politics.

Some question Lovejoy's ties to tradition when she shows up in a business suit instead of traditional clothing, or when they find out she's Catholic or married to a non-Navajo, she said.

She dismisses "mischievous" comments about her inclusion in the race, saying no respectable person versed in Navajo tradition would air them in public.

As Lovejoy and Shelly crisscross the reservation that extends into Arizona, New Mexico and Utah, they must cater to wide-ranging interests. Younger Navajos want to see more of the candidates and their positions online.

Elders who live in remote, scattered housing, often without electricity or running water, want assurance that the candidates will maintain traditions.

That she's a female makes no difference to Shelly, her opponent. "I'm not even thinking about that," he said. "She's my opposition. She's in my way of my goal, my presidency. I've got to beat her."

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Activate

Most Popular

Get weekly ads via e-mail

Follow the Arizona Daily Star

Featured businesses

View more...

Deals, offers & events

View more...

½ Price bottle of wine!

Come in Monday and Tuesday and pay ½ price on a bottle of wine