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Alray Nelson named NCAIED Top 40 Native American Leader Under 40

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Award dedicated to Indigenous LGBTQ Youth

GALLUP, NM – The National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development (NCAIED) announced its selection of Alray Nelson as one of the top 40 Native American Leaders Under 40. Award winners will be honored during the inaugural Northwest Enterprise Development Conference at the Tulalip Resort Casino in Tulalip, Washington, on Wednesday, September 6, 2017.

“This very special award recognition was created nine years ago to acknowledge those emerging Native American, Alaska Native, and First Nation citizens between 18 and 39 years of age who have demonstrated leadership, initiative, and dedication to achieve significant contributions to Native communities throughout North America,” Chris James, NCAIED president and chief executive officer, said in a letter to Nelson. “You are a true embodiment of what the NCAIED stands for, and a shining example of the economic future and advancement of Indian Country.”

Nelson has served as the lead organizer for the Coalition for Navajo Equality for the last five years and was the recipient of the prestigious 2015 Rainbow Champion Award that recognized his leadership for the gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer & two-spirit community on the Navajo Nation.

“It is an honor to be recognized alongside other remarkable Native leaders who are working for their people and strengthening the sovereignty of our nations,” said Nelson from his home in New Mexico. “I share this milestone in my life with my partner Brennen and proudly dedicate it to all our indigenous LGBTQ youth. Our work has been hard but we will continue to repeal tribal laws that discriminate against our LGBTQ relatives and bring an end to suicides in our communities.”

Nelson also noted that the Coalition has been working with tribal lawmakers to repeal the discriminatory Diné Marriage Act and plan to introduce legislation for a comprehensive hate crimes prevention & human rights law to provide legal rights and protections for the Navajo LGBTQ community. Alongside his partner of six years, Brennen Yonnie, they plan to challenge the tribal government’s ban on same sex unions before the Navajo Nation Supreme Court in the near future.

”Navajo laws should be just, fair, and respect the lives of our tribal members. Equality in all its forms is important to the livelihood of our people. This includes my feelings about the LGBTQ community on the Navajo Nation – they are our family members, relatives, and our neighbors,” said former President Joe Shirley, Jr. “Alray is truly an outstanding young man who shares the same love as I do for the Navajo people. His hard work will affect the lives of countless people and it will be historic. He is someone we should be watching.”

Holly Cook Macarro who is a senior partner at Spirit Rock Consulting and served as a member of the Native American Policy Team for President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton nominated Nelson.

“Alray’s greatest strength is his love for his people and his family. I have witnessed firsthand his unique ability to connect with elders, youth, and community leaders,” said Macarro. “Through his work on the Clinton campaign, he registered hundreds of new voters, played an integral role in developing our voter engagement strategy, and cultivated lasting relationships with tribal leaders that are invaluable today. Alray is deserving of this honor and has made a significant contribution to Indian Country.”

Founded in 2013, the Coalition for Diné Equality is guided by four visionary pillars: Sovereignty, Community, Family, & Hózhó. We believe in strengthening tribal sovereignty, working with communities to create sustainable change, advocating for all families, and sustaining Hózhó. We envision the Navajo Nation as a safe, supportive & inclusive home for our gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer & two-spirit family members.

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