July 22, 2015

Navajo voters approve language requirement change

Navajo Nation Flag

Navajo voters approved changes related to who can serve as top elected officials for the tribe on Tuesday.

The voters approved changes to the law that says the President and Vice President of the Navajo Nation must be fluent in Navajo, the native language of the tribe, as well as English. Voters will now decide if candidates are fluent in the languages when they go to the ballot box.

From the Navajo Times:

A referendum to change existing tribal laws on that subject passed Tuesday by a vote of 13,017 to 11,778, according to the unofficial count done by the Navajo Election Administration. That’s a difference of about five percentage points.
As expected, turnout for the election was low with only 21 percent of the registered voters participating in the election.

It became an issue this year after a long battle ended with presidential candidate Chris Deschene’s removal from the ballot. Deschene was unable to prove that he spoke Navajo and after a protracted legal battle, the Navajo Supreme Court ordered Deschene’s name removed from the ballot.

Deschene had finished second in the primary, which would have been good enough for a spot on the general election ballot.

Eventually, Russell Begaye won the election for president on April 22, months after the original November date for an election. Begaye was against the change to the law.

The movement to change the requirement gained steam after the prolonged presidential election.

From Reuters:

“This is a good thing for the Navajo people,” said council delegate Leonard Tsosie, who sponsored the referendum. “This means that you are not shutting out a group of young people from becoming leaders.”

The Navajo Nation is the largest reservation in the United States and comprises parts of New Mexico, Arizona and Utah.