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Meet the first woman to be elected speaker of the Navajo Nation's legislative branch


Elections in the Navajo Nation were held recently, and Crystalyne Curley won the race for council speaker. She is the first woman to lead the legislative branch of the Navajo Nation, and she joins an unprecedented number of Navajo women who now hold leadership positions in the nation's government. Speaker Curley joins us now from Window Rock, Ariz.

Speaker Curley, thanks so much for being with us.

CRYSTALYNE CURLEY: You're very welcome. I'm glad to be on the show today.

SIMON: What have these first weeks in the job been like for you?

CURLEY: It has been very busy, both locally, state and, you know, getting connection with our federal partners. It's been a great three weeks so far.

SIMON: I gather your opponent, who had been the incumbent, demanded a recount.

CURLEY: Oh, yes. My opponent did ask for a recount. You know, I just kept on that faith and, you know, praying about it. And following the recount, it was a difference by nine votes.

SIMON: Well, but certified. Nine votes is nine votes, isn't it?

CURLEY: Yes. Every vote counts.

SIMON: If it had been a baseball game, you would have been way ahead.

CURLEY: Right? Or if it was a football game, would have been a touchdown and a two-point conversion.

SIMON: Yeah, exactly. That's the way to look at it. A third of the council now comprised of women, I gather.

CURLEY: Yes. There's nine women on the floor with me. And, you know, it's just nothing but great support and really talking about issues that - we felt that were ignored for many years, such as, you know, family values and just really going back down to basics of fundamentals of, you know, a Navajo home.

SIMON: When you talk about family values, that's a phrase we hear used a lot, one way or another, in politics. What do you mean by it?

CURLEY: Particularly in Navajo Nation culture, it's kinship. In Navajo language, we call it ke, and also, you know, our community - having that sense of community. When I talk about family values in Navajo, it's not just immediate family, but it's extended family, kinship family and also within the community.

SIMON: You grew up in a place called Fish Point. Would it be fair to say you didn't have a lot of what we'd call amenities there?

CURLEY: Yeah, certainly. When I was growing up, you know, I didn't know the rest of the world had plumbing or electricity or cable TV. I live in a home that - had to use a kerosene lamp to do my homework. And we have to haul water for - just to take a bath. And, you know, we had to use generators or any source of anything just for a source of power - hauling firewood to keep our house warm. But I'm very grateful, you know, of the way I grew up because it made me the person that I am today.

SIMON: Yeah. So that's your priority now, to improve infrastructure?

CURLEY: Yes. You know, one thing that families continue to plea for is infrastructure. And majority of our roads are dirt roads as well. So my priority within these four years as being a council delegate and two years of being a speaker is really helping to expand the American Rescue Plan Act dollars towards infrastructure.

SIMON: I'm told you attended your first Navajo Council session when you were - well, let me get it directly from you. How old were you?

CURLEY: I was in third grade. I was probably about 9 years old.

SIMON: Do you look out at whoever attends the meetings now and see youngsters and realize they might be inspired by you?

CURLEY: Yeah, I really do hope so. And, you know, there're several students and classes that come into the council chambers, either for a tour or, you know, to attend sessions. And I'm really hopeful that our youngsters do come back and, you know, have that same vision to be a public servant.

SIMON: Crystalyne Curley, speaker of the Navajo Nation Council.

Speaker Curley, thanks so much for being with us.

CURLEY: Thank you so much for this opportunity.

(SOUNDBITE OF MAC DEMARCO'S "VANCOUVER 3") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.
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