Navajo voters decide on Jonathan Nez, Buu Nygren as the top presidential candidates

By: - August 3, 2022 12:29 am

President Jonathan Nez (center), his Chief of Staff Paulson Chaco (left) and First Lady Perphelia Nez (right) take notes during discussions following the State of the Nation address at the Navajo Nation Council on Oct. 21, 2019. Photo courtesy Navajo Nation Council Office of the Speaker.

Voters on the Navajo Nation have narrowed down their presidential candidates from 15 to the two who will square off in November: incumbent Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez and first-time presidential candidate Buu Nygren.

All 110 chapters reported unofficial results after midnight on Aug. 3, and results show Nez got 17,073 votes and Nygren got 12,878, according to the Navajo Election Administration.


The Navajo Nation is one of the largest tribes in the United States, with nearly 400,000 citizens. About 175,000 of those citizens live on the Navajo Nation. 

Voters are eligible to vote at the age of 18 and must register with their local Chapter House to qualify to vote in any Navajo Nation election. A Chapter House is a local community government, much like city councils, and there are 110 across the Navajo Nation.

“I appreciate our base of supporters coming out during this election,” Nez said of his primary election win during an interview with the Arizona Mirror

During his speech on Facebook Live, Nygren told his supporters that he was only as good as each and every one of them. 

“We ran a campaign that really shook things up,” he said, thanking the crowd in both Navajo and English.

The Navajo Nation had 15 presidential candidates to choose from this election season, and Navajo voters narrowed down their options during the primary election on Aug. 2. 

Nez, 47, is from Shonto, Arizona, and is married to Phefelia H. Nez. They have two children. His Navajo clans are Áshįįhí (Salt People), born for Ta’neeszahnii (Tangle clan), his maternal grandfather’s clan is Tódích’íi’nii (Bitter Water Clan), and his paternal grandfather’s clan is Táchii’nii (Red-Running-Into-The-Water Clan). Sharing one’s clans is how Navajo people introduce themselves.

“We do have more votes this time around, which is good, because we picked up more people,” Nez said. “The Navajo people know continuity is very important and that is the reason why they voted.” 

Nez is no stranger to politics on the Navajo Nation. He was elected Navajo Nation President in 2018, and before that he became Navajo Nation vice president in 2015. 

He represented the chapters of Shonto, Oljato, Tsah Bi Kin, and Navajo Mountain as a Navajo Nation Council Delegate and served on the Navajo County Board of Supervisors.

“I didn’t one day wake up and say I was gonna be president,” Nez said. “I worked from the bottom up.”

“I know the state politics, the county politics, the federal politics, the local chapter politics and that’s helped me in governing the Navajo Nation,” he added

Nygren, 35, is originally from Red Mesa, Arizona, and is married to state Rep. Jasmine Blackwater-Nygren. They have one child.

“This is an election about new leadership. We need to go in a different direction because what’s going on now isn’t working,” Nygren said during his Facebook Live. “We need to go down a path where our government is more efficient and it’s getting the services out to our community and it’s bringing our relatives home so they can help us.”

His Navajo clans are Táchii’nii (Red-Running-Into-The-Water Clan) born for Naa’ádaalts’ósí (Vietnamese), his maternal grandparents are Todích’íí’nii (Bitter Water Clan) and his paternal grandparents are Naa’ádaalts’ósí (Vietnamese).

Nygren has run for office on the Navajo Nation before. In 2018, he was announced as a running mate for Navajo Nation Presidential Candidate Joe Shirley Jr., but they did not win the general election.

During a Facebook Live session held at the Nygren camp on election night, various people talked about their support for Nygren as potential the next Navajo Nation President as unofficial results continued to come in. One of those speakers was his wife, Blackwater-Nygren.

Blackwater-Nygren mentioned during her speech that they’ve had many people come up to them and tell them they’re too young to understand the government or they don’t know what they’re doing and that her husband will have to learn starting at day one on the job. 

“What I’ve learned as a state representative, in my capacity, is that a lot of the times you don’t need government experience to make change,” she said. “What you need at the most fundamental level is somebody who is open-minded and somebody who is willing to work with others because that is how you make things happen.” 

Nez and Nygren will be on the ballot for the general election in November, and both candidates will choose a running mate for their vice president.


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Shondiin Silversmith
Shondiin Silversmith

Shondiin Silversmith is an award-winning Native journalist based on the Navajo Nation. Silversmith has covered Indigenous communities for more than 10 years, and covers Arizona's 22 federally recognized sovereign tribal nations, as well as national and international Indigenous issues.