Some San Juan County politicians didn’t take our advice last week to find common ground with their American Indian neighbors. Political control can do that to a person. And a people.
It’s difficult to paint an entire county with such a racist brush, because it is far more likely that only a few residents feel any discriminatory feelings toward the ancient tribe they share their land with. Maybe, in fact, just a resident or two who happen to be on the county commission or active in politics.
This week the county commission accused Democrat and Navajo candidate Willie Grayeyes of not being a Utah resident. The county claims that because Grayeyes is not a resident, he should be disqualified from running for the county commission.
The commission seats are open after a federal judge redrew the county’s voting districts and called a special election. The new boundaries give Navajos the majority, as their numbers dictate, in two of three commission districts and three of five school board seats. The county is at least 50 percent American Indian and 47 percent white.
A “concerned citizen” complained to the clerk’s office that Grayeyes actually lives in Arizona, and not Utah. But as The Tribune’s Courtney Tanner reported, “The county party chairman says he’s been registered to vote here for at least 34 [years]. The state elections director says he’s cast a ballot here for at least 26.”
The county called on Grayeyes to “prove his eligibility to be a candidate for office.”
Except that Grayeyes has already done that. He filed to run for office, which requires one to declare they are a resident, and provide a Utah address.
Tanner reported that Grayeyes’ attorney “emailed Google screenshots to the clerk pinpointing the candidate’s house in the Navajo Mountain community on the reservation, falling within Utah’s borders.”
He’s also a member of the Utah Navajo Commission, which requires residency, and sits on the board for Utah Diné Bikéyah.
In other words, Grayeyes is an esteemed member of Utah’s American Indian heritage, and San Juan County looks small and bigoted going after him.
He has a post office box in Arizona. But he explained that the post office services the Navajo Reservation where he lives, despite his home being in Utah. And he has never tried to hide that fact.
It’s no secret that many white residents of San Juan County are upset by the redrawn districts. One has said he “feel[s] like we’ve been disenfranchised.”
But the accusation against Grayeyes reflects poorly on the county. It’s time for the county’s other white residents to speak up for their American Indian neighbors.
It has been long enough.