Andrew Curley: Election flap exposes troubles in Navajo Nation

Chris Deschene and his running mate, Fannie Atcitty, suspended their campaign after the Navajo Nation Supreme Court said Deschene was unqualified to run for president. Photo from Facebook

Writer and student Andrew Curley calls on the Navajo Nation to enact policies to sustain tribal culture rather than legislate it:
In this era of self-determination, legislation has been introduced and debated on many hot button issues, such as the degree of “blood quantum” needed for tribal membership in 2004 and gay marriage in 2005, that are focused more on exclusion than on sustaining Navajo culture. The product is a limited vision tribal sovereignty that is narrowly practiced as a mechanism for cultural enforcement.

These larger issues have been ignored in the debate generated by Deschene’s disqualification. Instead, his opponents and those who are calling for strict enforcement of the language law blame young Navajos for their language “deficiencies.”

This narrowing approach to cultural continuity is not only discriminatory but it also possibly discourages an entire generation of Navajos who had no choice of what language they learned as infants from participating in their community’s social and political life.

If we want the Navajo language to survive, which is a goal of all actors involved, we need to focus on infants, not politicians. The future of the Navajo language depends on whether or not children today learn it as a first language and not whether or not presidential candidates can speak it to a test. We need both to remove fluency requirements from the tribal laws and to encourage a new framework for inculcating and sustaining Navajo language and culture.

In short, the Navajo Nation is legislating culture, which is not the same as sustaining it. Being Navajo is not necessarily about knowing the language fluently, as the Supreme Court wrote. Language is not our entire identity and should not be used as a criterion to disqualify someone from even running for a political position if enough people support that candidate.

Get the Story:
Andrew Curley: The dark side of Navajo traditionalism (Al Jazeera 11/3)

Navajo Nation Supreme Court Decision:
Tsosie v. Deschene (October 23, 2014)

Navajo Nation Supreme Court Order:
Tsosie v. Deschene (October 22, 2014)

Earlier Navajo Nation Supreme Court Order:
Tsosie v. Deschene (September 26, 2014)

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