Navajo Nation Votes To Relax Language Law

By Laurel Morales
July 21, 2015
Laurel Morales
At a Tuba City parade during last year's campaign many people held signs for Chris Deschene that said, "honor our voice."

Navajo voters approved a referendum Tuesday that makes it possible for the tribe’s next president and vice president to be non-Navajo-speaking. The historic vote relaxes the fluency requirement.

The law will now allow voters to determine if candidates speak Dine Bizaad well enough to hold the tribe’s top two offices.

The language requirement became the focus of last year’s election. Presidential candidate Chris Deschene was disqualified for refusing to prove his fluency. Deschene said he and many other Navajos are products of the boarding-school era, when the federal government forced Native Americans to speak only English.

Supporters of the successful referendum said Navajos who were relocated by the federal government or who have left the reservation to go to school or work should not be faulted for lacking language skills.

Navajos voted 52.5 percent in favor of the referendum, according to unofficial results released by the Navajo Election Administration on Tuesday night.

Still, many others said the president should be fluent because the tribe’s identity and sovereignty are tied to the Navajo language.