People of the year: Transitions and sacrifices

Amber Kanazbah Crotty

Amber Kanazbah Crotty

DURANGO, Colo.

Someone had to make the call.

In a time of turmoil some compared to the last dark days of the MacDonald Administration, the people turned to the courts.

Then, they turned ON the courts.

You’ll recall that in 2014, just days before the Navajo Nation presidential election, the Navajo Nation Supreme Court under Chief Justice Herb Yazzie permanently disqualified popular young candidate Christopher Clark Deschene after he refused to take a Navajo language fluency test to prove he qualified as a candidate.

Albert Hale

Albert Hale

The tortuous saga continued into 2015, with the Navajo Nation Council hastily rewriting the fluency law, extended-term President Ben Shelly vetoing it, efforts from both the Executive and Legislative branches to postpone the election until after a referendum could be held on the fluency issue … and the court dragged in once again.

In February, overturning a decision by Window Rock District Judge Carol Perry, the Supreme Court ordered that the election occur “as soon as possible and without delay” — with Russell Begaye, the third-highest vote-getter in the primary, replacing Deschene on the ballot.

The controversy over the fluency requirement continued, finally settling after the referendum was held July 21 with voters approving, by a good margin, a change in the law to allow voters to decide whether or not a candidate was fluent in Navajo.

Aaron Tsingine

Aaron Tsingine

But Yazzie’s long and distinguished legal career was over. With more than half the Navajo chapters passing resolutions for his removal and the council’s Law and Order Committee preparing legislation to oust him, Yazzie in May announced his retirement.

Amanda Blackhorse

Amanda Blackhorse

For his pivotal role in a painful transition in Navajo society — and sacrificing his career for a decision he later said he never should have had to make — the Navajo Times names former Chief Justice Herb Yazzie its Person of the Year for 2015.

Other Navajos who made the list, for better or worse, and made headlines in 2015, include: Navajo Nation Council Delegate Amber Crotty, Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye, Arizona Rep. Albert Hale, Arizona State Sen. Carlyle Begay, Amanda Blackhorse, Aaron Tsinigine, among others.

To find out why each made the list, pick up a Navajo Times newspaper or subscribe online.


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Categories: News

About Author

Cindy Yurth

Cindy Yurth is the Tséyi' Bureau reporter, covering the Central Agency of the Navajo Nation. Her other beats include agriculture and Arizona state politics. She holds a bachelor’s degree in technical journalism from Colorado State University with a cognate in geology. She has been in the news business since 1980 and with the Navajo Times since 2005, and is the author of “Exploring the Navajo Nation Chapter by Chapter.” She can be reached at cyurth@navajotimes.com.