Navajo Presidential Candidate To Appeal Language Decision Against Him

By Laurel Morales
October 09, 2014
Courtesy of the Deschene 2014 campaign
Chris Deschene says he's a product of cultural destruction. That's why his Navajo speaking skills are limited. But he continues to practice.

A Navajo presidential candidate said he will appeal a case challenging his ability to speak Navajo fluently. A tribal hearing officer ruled against him Thursday.

Chief hearing officer Richie Nez said he had no choice but to issue a default ruling against Chris Deschene, who refused to answer questions in Navajo to prove his language skills. Deschene said the questions were unfair and singled him out.

The decision came after two of Deschene’s primary opponents filed complaints. Deschene took an oath last spring promising he was fluent. Then on the campaign trail he admitted his Navajo needed some work.

Deschene has made preserving the Navajo language a focus of his campaign. Many tribal members have worked to preserve the language, which for several decades the federal government tried to eradicate.

“If this decision stands, it sends a message to our youth that most aren’t Navajo enough to lead,” Deschene said in a statement.

Deschene has 10 days to appeal to the Navajo Nation Supreme Court. The election is Nov. 4, but early voting has started. Elections official Kimmeth Yazzie said the tribe would send out replacement ballots if Deschene is disqualified.