FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – Two men vying for the Navajo Nation presidency announced their running mates Monday, choosing candidates from the New Mexico portion of the reservation to broaden their appeal.
Navajo President Jonathan Nez selected Chad Abeyta, a 33-year-old political newcomer who is an Air Force veteran and works as an attorney in the tribe’s legislative branch. Nez said Abeyta has strong family values and a bootstrap mentality, and highlighted that Abeyta returned to the reservation after finishing college.
“I’m honored to join this team,” Abeyta said. “I bring to the table leadership skills, critical thinking, and I plan to use creative solutions to addressing a lot of these things.”
Buu Nygren picked Richelle Montoya, the 45-year-old elected leader of the Torreon/Star Lake Chapter and a school board member whose husband is an Army veteran. Nygren highlighted Montoya as a woman and a mother who will challenge the status quo and ensure that ordinary Navajos’ voices are heard.
“I feel so humbled to be in the position that I’m in, and I really hope this will bring more young women into leadership roles in our community and our government,” Montoya said.
No woman has been elected as president or vice president of the Navajo Nation, which has the largest land mass by far of any Native American tribe in the U.S. and is the second most populous. The 27,000-square-mile reservation extends into New Mexico, Arizona and Utah.
Nygren is not the first to choose a woman as a running mate. Former Navajo presidential candidate Chris Deschene selected Fannie Atcitty in 2014, but Deschene was disqualified from the race over a language fluency requirement that later was amended.
Nez and Nygren will face off in the November general election. They were the top two vote-getters among 15 presidential hopefuls, including seven women, in last week’s primary election. The results are unofficial until they’re certified by the tribe’s election board, which is expected to meet in the coming days.
Nez and Nygren announced their running mates in the nonpartisan race in front of the sandstone structure that gives the tribal capital of Window Rock in Arizona its name.
Selecting a running mate from a different region of the reservation is a strategic move to balance a presidential ticket. Abeyta is from Alamo, and Montoya is from Torreon – two communities on the New Mexico side of the reservation.
Nygren, who has a background in construction management, grew up near the Arizona-Utah border on the Navajo Nation. He was a vice presidential candidate in 2018.
Nez, who served as a tribal lawmaker and the tribe’s vice president before being elected to his first term as president, is from Shonto, Arizona.