Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye approved a power-line hookup for the father of an alleged mistress in January, sparking outrage among political observers and the 32 nearby households that remain in the dark.
The issue blew up up in social media last week after Begaye failed to show up at a meeting in the small community surrounding the Coalmine Canyon Chapter of the Navajo Tribal Government about 18 miles southeast of Tuba City. Since then, two Facebook sites, Dusty's Navajo Political Sphere and Chinle Voters Coalition, have covered the scandal extensively, publishing photos of Begaye and his friend appearing together in public, including one photo in which the two appear to be holding hands. The two political Facebook sites have received hundreds of shares and comments from supporters and critics of the president.
Begaye addressed the situation in two statements Thursday, including a Facebook post — since taken down — in which he explains the circumstances of several pictures of him and the woman, Myra Draper-Begay. Social-media commentary includes talk of an "affair," how the two are often seen together, and rampant speculation about the nature of their relationship. Both Draper-Begay and President Begaye are married to other people.
Begaye's spokesman, Mihio Manus, told New Times on Tuesday that the office would release a statement about the allegations of favoritism and corruption. On Wednesday, he said the office had changed its mind.
But in an official statement released by the president's office on Thursday, Begaye announced that the power-line project now is moving forward for the other 32 households and offers an explanation for why only one home previously was connected. When the Begaye administration secured the federal block grant for the remote homes, only one home on the project list had been "fully cleared" for power, the home of Edward Begay, the news release states.
Not mentioned is the fact — confirmed by community members and not disputed by Begaye's office — that Edward Begay is the father of Myra Draper-Begay.
The statement offers another explanation for the electricity hookup that occurred in January and used about $37,000 in federal funds:
"This was a special situation because [Edward] Begay is an elder and a cancer patient. Because of his medical condition and needs, power is a necessity. It was Begay's wish to spend his last days with his wife [in] his home where he has lived for 60 years.
"This project was prioritized because it was the most ready after much work had gone into [it]..."
Some Navajos weren't buying it.
"If the president wants to get busy, that's cool. But don't use chapter house funds to play favoritism," says Facebook user Alexis White of Socorro, New Mexico.
Draper-Begaye, reached at her Tuba City business, Draper Glass, told New Times on Tuesday that she would comment on the matter later that evening. She never called back. Reached today, Draper-Begay said she didn't call back earlier because she was "upset" over the situation. She then said she needed to hang up but that she really would call right back this time. But she didn't.
In the Facebook statement that was removed, Begaye claimed he was holding hands with Draper-Begay at a restaurant because he was comforting her.
"I met the lady there to get an update on projects being considered for 7 chapters but before starting she told me about a family member admitted into ER and I just told her to pray and believe that God would heal her," Begaye wrote. "She thanked me by putting her hands on mine."
He had explanations for three other photos of him and the woman he identifies only as a "lady." He describes her as a community volunteer and says he hopes others take up her example and aren't "silenced by petty gossip."
"He felt the need to just clear the air on these photos and didn't want it lingering on the Internet," Manus told New Times today, explaining why Begaye put up the post only to take it down.
The flap began back in October, when residents of the rural Coalmine Canyon area heard a rumor that Edward Begay's power hookup would come before everyone else's in the community. Chapter representatives approved a resolution opposing the decision by President Begaye to approve a hookup for one family "and ignore the remaining families."
Without going into detail, the resolution states: "The community believes this is unethical and is considered favoritism" and requests that the Navajo president approve the funds to be released so the other 32 homes could receive power. It's signed by three of the five chapter delegates.
Then, in January, nearly all of the about 100 Coalmine Canyon community members turned out for a visit by President Begaye, said a community member who didn't wish to reveal her identity. Everyone was under the assumption that — because of the October resolution — he would announce that all the homes would get power, the source said. People were stunned to hear Begaye state that, for the time being, the federal funds would be applied only to the Edward Begay hookup.
Lights were on at Begay's home nine days later. There actually are two homes on the Begay property, the source said — one of them is owned by Myra Draper-Begay. The source said that Edward Begay moved onto the property 10 years ago, not 60.
President Begaye was supposed to come back to the community a week ago. Community members cooked a meal for him. But he didn't show. Several residents decided at that time to hold him accountable, the source said, and that's about when copies of the October resolution and pictures of the tribal president and Draper-Begay began appearing on social media.
The president's announcement on Thursday states that the other 32 homes should be hooked up by April and that 27 of them "still need to be cleared of wiring assessments."
New Times' source called this another misrepresentation. All but one of the 32 homes are "project ready," the source asserted.
A message was left with the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority today, but nobody immediately returned it.
Meanwhile, the Navajo Nation continues to buzz with what some call "gossip" and others see as potential corruption.
"He is no different then any other greedy politician," wrote Facebook user Bea Redfeather. "He is a total embarrassment to the tribe."
"This is downright disgusting and wrong," wrote Elsie Boyer on Facebook. "And those in authority are thinking, more than likely, what are they gonna do about it? Abuse of power!"
Yet Begaye also has Facebook supporters, like Amasani Nishli:
"Had Ms. Draper not acted on her ill father's behalf to call attention to the long delay, which she did before funds were pulled, the rest of the applicants would not have received hookups," Nishli wrote. "Will there be apologies forthcoming from the nitpickers who disparaged her or gratitude from those who get electricity?"
President Begaye didn't return numerous messages seeking comment.