Edison Wauneka has spent most of his life in public service. For the past 14 years he has served the Navajo Nation as elections director, and he previously served on the tribal council and ran for president.
Last week, he welcomed the public and met with staff at the recorder’s office during an open house organized by outgoing Recorder LeNora Fulton.
As a young man attending Brigham Young University, Wauneka was studying to become a dentist, but his path followed another direction and he returned home to the Navajo Nation.
“I got involved in politics, and I’m still here,” he said. “The needs of the people kept me.”
Wauneka talked about some of the policies in which he has been active — day care, Chapters, community development, emergency management and capital improvement, particularly when he served on the Navajo Nation Council between 1998 and 2002.
“I think it was good experience in trying to make a difference,” he said.
But he seemed to find his home and passion in the elections department. He served as chairman of the Navajo Nation Elections Board for six years, as well as working a stint in Sante Fe under the New Mexico secretary of state, for Native American voting rights before serving as elections director for the 129,000 registered voters in the Navajo Nation. He said he believes deeply in the importance of elections.
“There are a lot of things that need to be done in the communities. It is all based on participation in government. I think people should have the opportunity to do that,” he said.
Wauneka is sizing up his new department and the job ahead of him, and he seems pleased with the department’s staff.
“Right now, I’m just feeling my way around,” he said. “When you become the administrator, you have to take care of your staff. There’s a good staff here. My job is to provide leadership,” he said. “I believe in people. I believe in providing leadership, honesty and being up front and building personal relationships.”
Wauneka said he has a vision for how his office and county elections should be organized, and what he hopes to accomplish during his time in office. He said he would like to see the Elections Department placed under the auspices of the Recorder’s Office.
“I feel we should pursue this again, that voter registration should be combined with elections,” he said.
Wauneka seeks greater unity not only in county government, but also between Anglos and Native people living in the county.
“What really bothers me in St. Johns is that we need to address the differences between Navajos and Anglos. This is a religious community, and we are not different ... when we start looking at each other based upon skin color,” he said before hesitating and shaking his head. “We are all five-fingered people.
“We all need to work together for what will help all people, vote together, live together, play together. As long as we don’t talk about it, it will remain as it is. I will do my part to address for the betterment of all the towns we have.”
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