YouTube – Navajo Nation 10-9-14 hearing on the presidential qualifications of Chris Deschene

Here is the YouTube Video, “Navajo Nation 10-9-14 hearing on the presidential qualifications of Chris Deschene.” On Oct. 9, 2014, the Navajo Nation Office of Hearings and Appeals held a hearing on two election complaints filed after the Aug. 26, 2014, primary election by presidential candidates Dale Tsosie and Hank Whitethorne against presidential candidate Chris Deschene for allegedly lying on his affidavit about speaking the Navajo language fluently. The affidavit was Deschene’s sworn statement that he was qualified to be a presidential candidate. Among the qualifications to be a presidential candidate is speaking the Navajo language fluently.

The OHA initially dismissed the election complaints on Sept. 10, 2014, because Tsosie and Whitethorne missed the May 6, 2014, deadline for filing a complaint against Deschene.

Tsosie and Whitethorne appealed to the Navajo Nation Supreme Court, which returned the election complaints to the OHA and ordered the OHA to make a decision on whether Deschene met the Navajo language fluency requirement.

According to the Navajo Nation Supreme Court’s written, Sept. 26, 2014, decision, which was issued on Oct. 8, 2014, the “requirement for fluency in Navajo is a statutory requirement that was enacted by the Navajo Nation Council in 1990 as part of the 1990 Election Code.”

The Supreme Court stated in its Sept. 26, decision that Tsosie and Whitethorne asserted that “Deschene has been open about his inability to fluently speak and understand Navajo at a number of public forums in the months leading up to the primary election.

The justices also explained that the tribal election office’s certification of a presidential candidate’s sworn statement is “essentially an honor system…The applicant is fully aware of the importance and consequences of his or her attestation…the sworn statement also contains the candidate’s acknowledgement ‘that he or she may be removed as a candidate in the event his or her application contains a false statement.’”

They emphasized, “In our Navajo thinking, great responsibilities of public service are placed on a naat’anii, greater than may be commonly understood in other jurisdictions. Those who wish to serve must understand his/her own need to self-assess his/her own qualifications under the laws, his/her own abilities to serve, and the great needs of the public that in numerous cases lack the resources to watch over the actions of the naat’aniis they select.

“A candidate may not circumvent express conditions established by the Council by keeping silent until an election is over,” the justices noted. “Disqualifying conditions that are known to a candidate are not waived simply because an election has taken place. In short, the withholding of disqualifying conditions by a candidate goes to the self-assessment expected of a naat’anii and his/her fitness to serve.”

They explained that the OHA should have considered the election complaints because the complaints were not about the election office’s certification of Deschene as a qualified candidate on April 25, 2014.

The election complaints alleged that Deschene violated the election code by filing a false statement regarding his qualifications, the Supreme Court stated. “Based on the foregoing, we find the appellants’ post-election challenges are timely under 11 N.N.C. (Navajo Nation Code) section 341(A)(1).

“We now address the requirement for fluency in the Navajo language,” the justices stated. “Deschene argues the requirement for fluency in Navajo should be disregarded in favor of the 9,831 voters – 19 percent of all voters of the primary election – who voted for him because the qualification is vague, ambiguous, subjective and discriminating against young and educated Navajos. We strongly disagree.”

They noted that the fluency law for presidential candidates is clear and unambiguous and a reasonable regulation that promotes “some important governmental interest.

“As Dine’, we are the image of our ancestors and we are created in connection with all creation,” the justices explained. “Upon our creation, we are identified by: our Dine’ name, our clan, our language, our life way, our shadow, our footprints. Therefore, we were called the Holy Earth-Surface People, Diyin Nohookaa Dine’. Different thinking, planning, life ways, languages, beliefs and laws appear among us. But the fundamental laws – Dine’ bi beehaz’aanii bitse’ silei – placed by the Holy People remain unchanged.”

They noted that the requirement to speak the Navajo language fluently applies to all candidates.

“There is no evidence to show the law was intended to discriminate against the young person who may not be fluent and who may aspire to be a leader,” the justices stated. “The law was enacted to preserve, protect, and promote self-determination, for which language is essential…We therefore reject Deschene’s arguments to simply disregard the explicit requirement for fluency as specified in 11 N.N.C. section 8(A)(4).”

The Supreme Court then explained that it “has an obligation to interpret Navajo law and enforce Navajo law. We consider ancient laws also. The ancient laws of the Holy People take precedence because these are sacred laws that we were placed here with…The value system – the law of the Navajo people – is embedded in the language.”

The justices recalled when the Navajo people were returning from Hweeldi and Manuelito “Hastiin Ch’ilhaajini” urged them to remember the Navajo way of life, the language, the prayers, and the songs because that how they endured Hweeldi.

“When you think about that and the law that was established by the Holy People, our human leaders of the past obeyed that,” they stated. “And they carried out the responsibility of instructing the young ones that they must also carry this on. So that is ancient law that we consider in the interpretation of Navajo statutory laws.”

During the Oct. 9, Office of Hearings and Appeals hearing, Deschene repeatedly refused to answer questions from Justin Jones, attorney for plaintiff Hank Whitethorne by saying in English and Navajo that the questions were a test from Jones and Whitethorne, who were not Navajo language experts, and that the test had never been given to other presidential candidates.

The questions that Jones asked Deschene in the Navajo language were: Where are you from? and “What clan are you?

Jones asked Deschene in the English language if he could explain the tribal government process for a resolution.

OHA Chief Hearing Officer Richie Nez ordered Deschene to answer the questions. Deschene’s response was to repeat his answers to Jones.

Nez reminded Deschene that he had offered an objective test that was developed by the Department of Dine’ Education, Office of Standards, Curriculum & Assessment Development to him, which Deschene initially agreed to take on Oct. 2 but then at the last minute refused to take.

Deschene has previously argued that his former attorney, Calvin Lee, whom he fired, was the one that agreed to have him take the test. But his new attorney, Brian Lewis, advised him against taking the test.

During the Oct. 3, 2014, hearing, Deschene and his attorney, Brian Lewis, agreed to a deposition by David Jordan and Justin Jones, the attorneys for plaintiffs Dale Tsosie and Hank Whitethorne, at Jordan’s law office in Gallup, N.M., on Oct. 6, 2014. A video tape of the deposition was shown at the beginning of the Oct. 9 hearing but that was done in executive session.

During the Oct. 6 deposition, Deschene refused to have the deposition video taped because it might be leaked to the media. Jordan and Jones informed Nez that they would have everyone involved in the deposition to sign a confidentiality agreement. Nez then explained to Deschene that as a public official he could expect to be video taped. Nez then ordered that the deposition of Deschene continue and that the deposition be video taped.

During the Oct. 9 hearing, Deschene continued to refuse to answer questions, which eventually resulted in David Jordan, attorney for plaintiff Dale Tsosie, asking Nez for a default judgment against Deschene, which Nez granted. Nez issued his decision in a written Oct. 9, 2014, Final Order Disqualifying Deschene.

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