Residency claim may rest on umbilical cord

San Juan County Clerk John David Nielson has yet to rule on a challenge to the residency of San Juan County Commission candidate Willie Grayeyes.
The stakes and the emotions are high on this issue, which combines racial and political tensions in a high-stakes race which may change the face of the San Juan County power structure.
The crux of the issue may come down to cultural assumptions regarding the definition of “resident”.
Grayeyes, a member of the Diné tribe, is the Democrat nominee for the Second District Commission position currently held by Phil Lyman.
After being informed of the complaint in late March, Grayeyes provided a series of documents to establish his claim of residency on April 19.
Then, on April 25, supplemental documents were filed which suggest that his claim of residency may be largely based on a Navajo tradition.
Grayeyes writes, “I was born about one mile southeast of my current residence, on land within San Juan County, Utah, and my umbilical cord is buried near my place of birth.”
He concludes, “According to Navajo tradition, which I believe, the area where I was born and where my umbilical cord is buried is my permanent place of residence.”
Supporters of Grayeyes state that the supplemental documents simply strengthen the case made by the candidate on April 19.
Those on the other side of the argument suggest that the supplemental documents are an implicit admission that Grayeyes does not reside in San Juan County under typical definitions.
It is expected that Nielson will make the determination in a decision that is likely to be appealed to the legal system.
Controversy regarding election issues in San Juan County have been in the legal system for a number of years. The Navajo Nation sued San Juan County in 2012, arguing that the election districts for the Commission and school board violated federal law.
After a recent ruling by Federal Judge Robert Shelby, the boundaries of the voting districts have been redrawn. The Commission seat sought by Grayeyes has always been represented by an Anglo commissioner. Now an estimated 65 percent of the population in the district is Native American.
Blanding resident Wendy Black filed the complaint in March, stating that Grayeyes is not eligible to run as an elected official in San Juan County since he is not a resident of the county, or of the State of Utah.
A deputy for the San Juan County Sheriff’s office investigated the complaint.
In a press release announcing the challenge, San Juan County stated, “While looking into this issue, we have received information that would support this citizen complaint.”
As a result, the Clerk asked Grayeyes to provide proof of his residency.
Grayeyes countered that his residence is in an isolated area on Piute Mesa, near Navajo Mountain. He has invited Nielson to meet him at his home.
When candidates file to run for office, they sign an affidavit stating that they are a resident of the district for which they seek office.

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