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Controversy continues over Navajo Nation presidential election

Chris Deschene and his former running mate, Fannie Atcitty, campaigned on the Navajo Nation before he was removed from the ballot. Photo from Facebook

The Navajo Nation was supposed to have a new president by now but it looks like the election won't be held until sometime this fall.

Joe Shirley Jr., a former president, was due to face Chris Deschene in the election last year. But Deschene was removed from the ballot because he is not fluent in the Navajo language as required by tribal law.

Navajo Nation presidential candidate Russell Begaye and his running mate, Jonathan Nez. Photo from Facebook

Russell Begaye was then placed on the ballot. But a date for the election was never set and now the Navajo Nation Council is proposing a new schedule that will reopen the presidential race to prior candidates, a list that presumably includes Deschene.

"We shouldn't be screening candidates, whether they speak good Navajo or not," Delegate Lorenzo Curley told The Farmington Daily Times.

The council passed a separate bill, sponsored by Curley, that would have preserved the Navajo language requirement for presidential candidates. However, voters would determine whether a particular candidate is fluent or not.

But Navajo President Ben Shelly, who remains in office despite losing the primary last year, vetoed the measure. He said any changes should be put to a vote of the entire tribal membership.

"An overhaul needs to occur to ensure the laws are clear, unambiguous and fair. However, on something as important and decisive as the issues facing our nation today, change needs to be done through consultation and a referendum of the people," Shelly wrote in his veto message.

Joe Shirley Jr., right, and his running mate, Dineh Benally. Photo from Twitter

Meanwhile, Deschene has filed a lawsuit in tribal court to get back on the ballot. He claims that the chief hearing officer who heard the language case was not qualified to serve for the Navajo Office of Hearings and Appeals.

Richie Nez was fired from the office last month because he failed to pass a state bar exam.

Get the Story:
Shelly rejects latest attempt to change Navajo language fluency requirements (The Farmington Daily Times 1/3)
Navajo Nation Council passes bill to schedule special election dates for the presidency (The Farmington Daily Times 1/1)
Former Navajo Nation presidential candidate Chris Deschene files motion to get back on the ballot (The Farmington Daily Times 12/31)
Navajo presidential hopeful appeals disqualification (AP 12/31)

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