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.
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
Mexico state senator has been called an outsider who
lacks experience in tribal government. More to the
point, she's been told she'll ruin a tradition in which
all previous top leaders have been men and that her
presidency could portend an ominous future for the
tribe. Some have even attributed damaging weather events
to her quest for the leadership.
others have hope she'll bring attention to social
justice issues and increase job opportunities for
younger people on the reservation. Some ask why not a
woman considering the tribe's struggles with men as
Stevens, who works with domestic violence victims on the
reservation, says perpetrators are running rampant, and
women and children need help.
woman like the rest of us," said Stevens, of Crystal,
N.M. "Hopefully that will pull at her heart strings."
have been the leaders of Navajo people and traditionally
consulted with women in the communities as equals.
Navajos see each person as having female and male
aspects that create balance.
Bluehouse, a traditional peacekeeper, said those who
believe women can't be president likely are looking to a
Navajo tale of a female who was given a leadership post
but became angry and controlling.
fail to look beyond that story to one in which the deity
White Shell Woman gives birth to the Twin Warriors, who
rid the world of monsters such as greed, poverty and
hate, Bluhouse said. According to Navajo lore, all
Navajos can trace their ancestry back to her, and she's
considered to be the ideal woman.
Lovejoy and Shelly know the story but are quick to note
they're no experts in tradition. They are familiar,
though, with "monsters" that come in the form of a more
than 50 percent unemployment rate, the abuse of women
and children, infighting in tribal government and
in the race is oversight of the 27,000-square-mile
reservation, its economy, future use of natural
resources and the fight to maintain tribal sovereignty.
Navajo president Peterson Zah said even with a win,
Lovejoy's success would depend on whether she has the
support of other women in the Tribal Council, who are
outnumbered. The council is acknowledged as more
powerful than the presidency.
excitement over having a woman in the race has faded,
and Zah says, "now it's the whole question of 'Can Lynda
Lovejoy govern if she's in that position ... how will
she deal with these bigger Navajo Nation-wide issues?'"
grew up in Crownpoint, N.M., where flat-lying land opens
up to wide country with a distant, rugged ridge line.
She shared a two-room hogan with 12 others and spent her
days chopping firewood, herding sheep, hauling water and
the reservation for college and spent a few years
working for the Navajo government before entering state
raising her three children as a single mother, Lovejoy
said she lacked the spirituality to be strong and an
effective parent, so she turned to Catholicism but still
practices the traditional Navajo way of life. She also
has five stepchildren.
never leave your tradition," she said. "You learn it and
it stays with you."
question Lovejoy's ties to tradition when she shows up
in a business suit instead of traditional clothing, when
they find out she is Catholic or married to a
non-Navajo, she said. She's also disputed allegations
that she's a drunk, a pervasive social ill on the
dismisses "mischievous" comments about her inclusion in
the race, saying no respectable person grounded in
Navajo tradition would air them in public.
there are people out there who are struggling with
that," she says. "But for the most part they are
beginning to accept the fact that there's equal
opportunities for women in leadership positions. Even in
the presidential position."
years ago, Lovejoy became the first woman ever to make
it through the primary election but ultimately lost to
current President Joe Shirley Jr., who is term-limited.
In the years up to and since that run, Lovejoy has
served in New Mexico state government as a senator,
representative and member of a regulatory commission.
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,
jobs, and money for scholarships.
who live in remote, scattered housing often without
electricity or water want assurance the candidates will
maintain traditions and speak fluent Navajo.
Lovejoy's time in state government is what her opponent,
Shelly, is relying on to give him an edge. He says she
doesn't understand what Navajos truly need — someone who
has spent more time in politics on the reservation than
off — and she's lost the momentum she once had.
she's a female makes no difference to him.
even thinking about that," he said. "She's my
opposition. She's in my way of my goal, my presidency.
I've gotta beat her."
Roanhorse, who is from the same community as Shelly's
running mate, worries about the livelihood of a culture
in which she was taught that women should maintain the
home and care for the children, not seek the top elected
Navajo culture and teachings, a lady shouldn't be
running," said Roanhorse, of Rock Point, while awaiting
the start of last month's Navajo Fair parade. "It should
be the men who are protecting and leading."
moves down the parade route, Lovejoy keeps a fairly
straight path, embracing those who walk up to her.
Shelly veers right and left, shaking hands in the crowd
and wiping his brow with a towel.
has more support than the other, it's not clear from the
you grow up with traditional values, you can really feel
the motivation in their speeches, and you stand up for
them," said Joyce Tsinijinnie of Ganado, sitting with
her husband on the parade route. "But I don't feel that
for either of the candidates. We're open-minded, so
we'll see what happens."