Proposed Navajo Council legislation would remove Navajo language fluency for presidential candidates

Navajo Nation Council Delegate Lorenzo Curley is sponsoring proposed Navajo Nation Council legislation that would remove Navajo laws that mandate that presidential candidates speak the Navajo language fluently.

Legislation 0281-14, which is titled “An Act relating to Law and Order, Naabik’iyati’ and the Navajo Nation Council; Amending language fluency requirements of the Navajo Nation Election Code at 11 N.N.C. sections 8(B)(4)(Office of President/Vice President); section 8(B)(8)(Office of Council Delegates), sections 8(D)(1)(f), 8(D)(2)(c)(Land Board) and section 8)d)(3)(c)(Farm Board)”

Curley’s legislation, which was electronically posted on the Council’s website at 4:10 p.m. on Oct. 1, 2014, to begin the five-day public comment period, comes two days before the Navajo Nation Office of Hearings and Appeals holds a hearing on whether presidential candidate Chris Dechene meets the Navajo language qualification for a presidential candidate.

The OHA has scheduled an Oct. 3, 2014, 9 a.m. hearing at their Window Rock, Ariz., office, on two election complaints filed against Deschene by two presidential candidates, Dale Tsosie and Hank Whitethorne, that accused Deschene of falsifying his presidential candidacy qualifications affidavit involving his ability to speak the Navajo language fluently, especially since Deschene, an attorney, has publicly admitted numerous times that he is learning how to speak Navajo.

The OHA initially dismissed the election complaints because the complaints were filed after an election grievance deadline. Tsosie and Whitethorne appealed to the Navajo Nation Supreme Court, which decided on Sept. 26, 2014, that the election grievance complaint could not be used against Tsosie and Whitethorne because the contents of Deschene’s presidential candidacy qualifications affidavit were only known to Deschene, which prevented Tsosie and Whitethorne from filing their complaints in a timely manner.

The Supreme Court, in their decision, also ordered the OHA to hold a hearing within five days and qualify or disqualify Dechene as a presidential candidate. The high court provided a legal definition of speaking Navajo fluently for the OHA.

According to a Supreme Court Sept. 26, 2014, press release, “The Court found that the qualification for fluency is a reasonable regulation to a candidate’s right to political liberty and that it is the freedom of the people that the sacred Diné language be taught and preserved.”

Judicial Branch Public Information Officer Karen Francis stated, “After issuing the decision, the justices explained that the basis for their decision utilized Diné bi beenahaz’áannii.”

Members of the Navajo Nation Council petitioned Speaker Pro Temp LoRenzo Bates to call a special session, which has been scheduled for 10 a.m. on Oct. 2, 2014, in the Council chambers in Window Rock, Ariz.

According to the Council’s proposed agenda, there is no proposed legislation, only reports. And among the reports is Curley’s proposed legislation 0281-14, which would remove the legal requirement for presidential candidates to speak the Navajo language fluently.

Curley’s legislation cannot go before the Council because it’s still under the five-day public comment period, which ends on Oct. 6, 2014. Legislation 0281-14 is then ready for standing committee action on Oct. 7, 2014. According to 0281-14, it must go before the Council’s Law and Order Committee, the Naabik’iyati Committee and finally the Council.

The Council’s Fall session is from Oct. 20 to 24.

Deschene came in second in the tribal primary election and was facing top primary vote getter Joe Shirley Jr.

Council Delegate Russell Begaye of Shiprock, N.M., came in third and could move into second place if OHA disqualifies Deschene.

And if the OHA qualifies Deschene, then Tsosie and Whitethorne have the legal option of appealing to the Supreme Court.

Meanwhile, the Navajo Board of Election Supervisors voted 4 in favor, 2 opposed on Sept. 26, 2014, to continue with the Nov. 4 General Election for all candidates instead of splitting the Nov. 4 general election, which would have allowed for a special election for presidential candidates after Nov. 4 and for the voting on the elected positions for the Council, the Navajo Nation Education Board, the Navajo Board of Election Supervisors and the Kayenta Township to be held on Nov. 4.

When the Council convenes its special session on Oct. 2, 2014, they will also be hearing a report from legislative attorney Ron Haven about the election board’s decision. Haven serves as the legal adviser for the election board and before the board voted to reaffirm the Nov. 4 general election, Haven asked for an executive session.

During the board’s Sept. 26, 2014, debate over a special election for only the presidency, Haven attempted to explain to the board that if they reaffirmed the Nov. 4 general election that the voting ballots would be printed before all legal issues are answered regarding one of the top two presidential candidates.

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