The Slatest

Navajo Nation Presidential Contender Disqualified Over Language Fluency Requirement

The Code Talkers monument in Window Rock, the seat of Navajo Nation government.

Tim Gaynor/Reuters

One of two runoff candidates for the presidency of the Navajo Nation—which is the largest Indian tribe in the United States and is set to receive a $554 million settlement from the federal government—has been ordered disqualified because he may not fluently speak the Navajo language, a requirement for the office. From NPR:

In a 2-to-1 vote, the Navajo Nation Supreme Court ordered Deschene off the ballot last week. Then the Navajo Nation Council voted to change the language requirement in an 11-to-10 vote, retroactively, so that Deschene could continue running. On Tuesday, that legislation was vetoed by current Navajo Nation president Ben Shelly.

Deschene, a Marine veteran who has law and engineering degrees, admits he is not a master of the language, but says he can communicate using it and would become fluent if elected. The issue has come to a head in recent weeks after an Aug. 26 primary. From the New York Times:

Last month, the tribal Supreme Court upheld the language requirement, saying it was crucial to maintaining Navajo culture, and ordered Mr. Deschene to take a fluency test.

He refused, saying he was proficient in the language and objecting that the test had never been used before and was illegitimate. Tribal officials then disqualified him from the race, and the court on Thursday ordered him removed from the ballot and replaced with the candidate who finished third in the primary.

In another twist of the crisis, NPR reports, the Nation’s election commissioner has refused to actually reissue new ballots without Deschene’s name—and early voting has already begun. Developing!