Navajo Nation Voters Will Decide Language Requirements For Candidates

Published: Tuesday, March 17, 2015 - 9:40am
(Photo courtesy of Deschene 2014 campaign)
Chris Deschene was disqualified from the most recent Navajo Nation presidential race because he refused to show he could speak fluent Navajo.

The president of the Navajo Nation has signed legislation that allows for a reservation-wide vote on language requirements for candidates who run for the tribe's top positions.

According to his chief of staff, Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly approved the bill Monday because he wants members of the nation to give their opinions.

Presidential candidates and their running mates currently must understand and speak fluent Navajo. If approved, the ballot measure essentially would remove that requirement and let voters decide whether candidates know Navajo and English well enough.

During a special session, delegate Leonard Tsosie proposed the amendment as a way to heal the tribe after controversy over former presidential candidate Chris Deschene’s ability to speak Navajo led to a delay from last year’s regularly scheduled November election.

The bill originally sought nearly $318,000 to fund a presidential election on April 21. Lawmakers amended it so that the referendum vote gets first priority for funding.

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