Ben Shelly

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Ben Shelly
Ben Shelly.jpg
7th President of the Navajo Nation
In office
January 11, 2011 – May 12, 2015
Vice President Rex Lee Jim
Preceded by Joe Shirley, Jr.
Succeeded by Russell Begaye
5th Vice President of the Navajo Nation
In office
January 9, 2007 – January 11, 2011
President Joe Shirley, Jr.
Preceded by Frank Dayish, Jr.
Succeeded by Rex Lee Jim
Personal details
Born (1947-07-06) July 6, 1947 (age 69)
Thoreau, New Mexico
Nationality  Navajo Nation and
Spouse(s) Martha Shelly
Residence Thoreau, New Mexico
Occupation Public service; retired small business owner
Religion Christian Church

Ben Shelly (born July 6, 1947)[1] was the 7th one term President of the Navajo Nation. Shelly was the first President to have been elected both President and Vice President of the Navajo Nation.[2] He is also the first New Mexican Navajo to hold the Navajo Presidency.[2]

On November 2, 2010, Shelly was voted in as the Navajo Nation's President-elect during the 2010 Navajo Nation Presidential Elections, defeating opponent New Mexico State Senator Lynda Lovejoy[3] of the Navajo Nation. On August 16, 2014 Shelly lost the Navajo Nation Primaries to former Navajo Nation President Joe Shirley Jr and newcomer Christopher Deschene.

Early life and education[edit]

Shelly was born in Thoreau, New Mexico. He is Tó’aheedlíinii clan born for Tsʼah Yiskʼidnii. His maternal grandfather is Áshįįhí and his paternal grandfather is Táchiiʼnii.

Shelly's wife of 45 years, Martha Shelly, is originally from Coyote Canyon. She is Tábąąhá and born for Tódích’íiʼnii. They have five children and 10 grandchildren.

Shelly lived in Chicago for 16 years, training in heavy equipment maintenance and working as a supervisor for a heavy equipment company. Shelly moved back to the Navajo Nation in 1976, and owned a fleet maintenance and mechanic shop.[4]


Navajo Delegation including Councilmen Kenneth Maryboy & Davis Filfred along w/Vice-President Shelly meeting w/Utah State Legislature in Salt Lake City, Utah

In 1990, Shelly was chairman of the Dineh Rights Association.[5]

Navajo Nation Council Delegate[edit]

Shelly became the Thoreau Navajo Nation Councilman in 1991, and in 1993 he campaigned for legalized gambling in Navajo areas.[6]

Shelly became a member of the Transportation and Intergovernmental Relations Committees, and chairman of the Budget and Finance Committee as well as serving 12 years as a McKinley County Commissioner.[7]

He was in the leadership of the National Associations of Counties Organization, where he helped form a Native American coalition of county officials from Apache, Coconino, San Juan of Utah, San Juan of New Mexico, Navajo, Sandoval, and McKinley counties.

Navajo Nation Vice-President[edit]

In 2006, Navajo Nation President Joe Shirley, Jr. selected Shelly as his running mate in the 2006 presidential election. At the time of his selection, President Shirley said of Shelly, "He has the necessary knowledge of our government, and the government outside, He is down to earth and knows the heart of the people. He was raised with culture, as I was, on a sheepskin rug."[8] Shirley and Shelly won the 2006 Navajo Nation presidential election. Shelly was sworn in as Vice President of the Navajo Nation on 9 January 2007.[9]

Shelly serves on the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Tribal Technical Advisory Group, leading efforts to amend existing Medicaid laws to ensure that a Certificate of Indian Blood could be used to verify U.S. citizenship. Shelly represents the Navajo Nation in budget discussions and formulations for federally funded programs. In 2007, he led a Navajo delegation in consultative budget deliberations with the U.S. Office of Management and Budget.

Although Navajo Nation elections are officially non-partisan, Shelly is a registered Democrat active in state politics in New Mexico, Arizona, and Utah. He works with the New Mexico state legislature and the governor’s office to fund capital improvement projects on the Navajo Nation.[10] New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson appointed Shelly to his Tribal Economic Development Task Force.

Shelly is also an opponent of Senate Bill 1690 which would allow San Juan County, Utah Navajos to be their own trustee, managing their own resources by way of a nonprofit organization structure, without interference from the Navajo Nation. The tribe has long argued it should be the trustee, sans any federal or state interference.[11]

Probe of Tribal Council discretionary funds[edit]

In October 2010, Ben Shelly, among Navajo tribal other officials, were charged in an investigation of slush funds just weeks before the November election. Shelly pleaded not guilty to those tribal charges of fraud, conspiracy and theft. Each misdemeanor count carrying a penalty of up to a year in jail and $5,000 if convicted.

Shelly has stated that he is confident that the conspiracy, fraud and theft charges against him would be dismissed, saying he's no crook. Criminal complaints allege that Shelly unlawfully took $8,850 in tribal discretionary funds to benefit himself and his family while he served on the Tribal Council. He has pleaded not guilty and said the money was for "Legitimate Hardships."

Court documents allege that Shelly conspired to benefit himself and his immediate family, including his wife, grandchildren and a sister, in 2005 and 2006. On four occasions, Shelly filed applications for discretionary funds on behalf of his family and personally approved the requests, a complaint alleged. Tribal ethics and rules laws have limits on the value of gifts lawmakers can receive and prohibit engaging in conflicts of interest.

Police served some delegates with the complaints just before they convened for the fourth day of their fall session in the tribal capital of Window Rock.

The Tribal Council called for a special prosecutor in 2009 to look into the Navajo tribal president Joe Shirley Jr.'s relationship with two companies that had operated on the reservation. The Navajo attorney general accepted that request but also expanded the probe to include the council's use of discretionary funds, to the surprise of the council.[12]

The council, and the Office of the President and Vice President receive millions of dollars a year through supplemental budget appropriations to dole out to elderly Navajos on fixed income, college students, organizations in need or Navajos looking for emergency funding.

Alan Balaran was hired as the Special Prosecutor earlier this year. His duties later were expanded to include a tribal ranch program, and discretionary funds given to the tribal president's and vice president's office.[12]

"If Shelly is found guilty, however, he will be removed from office and the people will need to launch a new election process," NM State Rep. Ray Begaye, D-Shiprock said. "If removed, Shelly likely will be joined by many of the delegates. Of the 24 elected Tuesday to the reduced council, 16 were incumbents." [13]

Navajo Nation President (2011-2015)[edit]

In the Navajo Nation Tribal presidential election, held on November 2, 2010, Shelly defeated New Mexico Sen. Lynda Lovejoy, becoming the first vice president to be elected to the Navajo Nation Presidency, dashing Lovejoy's hopes of becoming the tribe's first female president.[14] Shelly was sworn in as President on January 11, 2011.[15]

Despite Vice President Shelly facing criminal charges in the probe of the Council's controversial use of discretionary funds, he would go on to win the 2010 election. Later, Shelly would be cleared of any wrong doing. Shelly would serve as President during the 88-member Tribal Council reduction following the special election of December 2009 that was aimed at reforming the Navajo government.

Shelly received 52 percent of the vote in the 2010 presidential race. His opponent, New Mexico state Sen. Lynda Lovejoy, garnered 47 percent of the vote - 33,692 votes to Lovejoy’s 30,357. Voter turnout hit nearly 58 percent in the 2010 tribal elections.

In his last days as Navajo President, he would veto various controversial bills effecting the still as yet decided 2014 Navajo Presidential Race.

Shelly's Presidential term was extended five months after the uncertainty of The Navajo Nation Presidential Election affected his Term in office, The Shelly Jim Administration Term in office officially ended on May 12, 2015 at 12:00 PM Noon, in which before a Flag Retiring Ceremony for the Navajo and US Flags which flew for the Shelly Jim Administration were retired and new ones flown.

Navajo Nation Election 2014[edit]

During the Navajo Nation Primary Election on August 26, 2014 President Ben Shelly lost his bid for a second term with only 2,446 Votes from out of 110 Chapters. Former Arizona Representative Chris Deschene and former two term Navajo Nation President Joe Shirley JR. were to move on to the General Election, but the Navajo Supreme Court suspended the 2014 General Election, and the Council subsequently delayed the election further. Ben Shelly's term ends January 13, 2015. As determined by the Navajo Nation Code §1006, the Speaker of the Navajo Council shall assume the duties of the office in the event a vacancy of both the President and Vice President.

Navajo Nation President Interim Appointee (2015)[edit]

In a controversial appointment, Ben Shelly was designated interim president; contradicting Navajo Nation Code § 1006 in resolutions referenced as CD-80-14 and CD-81-14.[16] on May 12, 2015 Ben Shelly and Rex Lee Jim finished their one term which was unprecedentedly extended another five months, after problems with the disqualification of Presidential hopeful Chris Deschenee and ongoing special election between Joe Shirley Jr. and Russell Begaye. The Shelly Jim Administration passed on the Navajo Nation Executive Office at 12:00 pm noon onto newly elected Navajo President Elect Russell Begaye and Vice President Elect Johnathon Nez.


  1. ^ "Ben Shelly". [dead link]
  2. ^ a b Calvin, Carolyn (2010-12-31). "Many firsts in primary, general elections". Navajo Times. Retrieved 2012-07-12. 
  3. ^ "Navajo Nation presidential race results as they happen". Navajo Times. 2 November 2010. Archived from the original on 3 November 2010. Retrieved 2 November 2010. 
  4. ^ Navajo Nation Vice President Ben Shelly
  5. ^ "Navajo leader Haskie listed as oil company's executive". The Prescott Courier. 1 May 1990. Retrieved 19 June 2010. 
  6. ^ "Navajo council looks at legalized gambling". The Prescott Courier. 19 October 1993. Retrieved 19 June 2010. 
  7. ^ Sanghani, Zarana (22 December 1999). "County Commission juggles jail contract". Gallup Independent. Archived from the original on 3 February 2010. Retrieved 19 June 2010. 
  8. ^
  9. ^ "Navajo President Joe Shirley Jr. sworn in to second term, Navajo Vice President Ben Shelly takes his oath of office" (PDF). Government of the Navajo Nation. 2007-01-10. Retrieved 2013-06-19. 
  10. ^ "Navajo Speaker, Vice President attend NM Indian Day". Navajo-Hopi Observer. 9 February 2010. Retrieved 19 June 2010. 
  11. ^ Navajo conflict aired in Senate
  12. ^ a b Deseret News: Shelly Charged in Discretionary funds Probe
  13. ^ Navajo tribal scandal runs deep
  14. ^ Shelly Beats Lovejoy.
  15. ^ Charges pending as Navajo president sworn in, News West 9, January 11, 2011.
  16. ^

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