Navajo Supreme Court Kicks Presidential Candidate Off The Ballot

October 22, 2014

The Navajo Supreme Court has disqualified a presidential candidate because he doesn’t speak fluent Navajo, a requirement for the tribe’s top office. But questions remain about the election going forward.

In September, two of Chris Deschene’s primary opponents filed complaints when Deshene admitted publicly he was still working on his Navajo language skills. Deschene refused to answer the lower court’s questions in Navajo, saying they were biased, so he was disqualified from the race.

Deschene blames the federal government’s boarding school program that tried to wipe out Native American culture.

“The result out of that were a number of generations that were only allowed to speak English,” Deschene said. “My mother endured the boarding school generation.”

As a result half of the tribe on and off the reservation doesn’t speak Navajo.

This week the high court dismissed Deschene’s appeal over what appears to be a technicality. He did not include a copy of his disqualification order with his notice of appeal.

At a recent parade in Tuba City, Ariz., many held signs for Chris Deschene but only his opponent Joe Shirley Jr. appeared on a parade float. Parade attendee Herbert Pioche said fluency shouldn’t be an issue.

“Look at all these young people,” Pioche said. “A lot of them they don’t speak the language. You’re a Navajo, regardless if you speak only Navajo or only English. It doesn’t matter. You’re a Navajo.”

Down the street Mel Maloney said it does matter.

“Number one, it’s a qualification until it’s changed,” Maloney said. “The fact there are still quite a few elderly that are Navajo speaking only.”

But Maloney said in another 10 years, fluency probably won’t be necessary.

The Navajo Nation Supreme Court said election officials must move up Russell Begaye, the candidate who came in third place.

Even though the court’s order said it is “final and enforceable,” a lot of questions remain. Like what happens with all of the early ballots with Deschene’s name?

It’s unclear whether the tribe will be able to choose a new president on Nov. 4.