A Navajo court has disqualified a tribal presidential candidate running for the top elected post on the largest U.S. Indian reservation because he has refused to demonstrate his fluency in the Navajo language.
Chris Deschene, a U.S. Naval Academy graduate and a lawyer, refused to answer questions in the Navajo language Thursday at a hearing in Arizona.
A tribal election law requires Navajo presidential candidates to speak Navajo fluently.
Deschene said it is not fair that he is being singled out for his language ability.
Richie Nez, a tribal hearing officer, said he had no choice but to rule against Deschene because he refused to answer questions in Navajo.
Deschene, who has been campaigning for the November general election, said he will appeal the decision to the tribe’s Supreme Court.
Two of Deschene’s opponents in the primary election challenged his candidacy. Dale Tsosie and Hank Whitethorne said Deschene lied when he attested to speaking the language fluently on his candidate application.
Deschene said the ruling sends the message to young Navajos that they “aren’t Navajo enough to lead.”
Deschene said he is hopeful the tribal Supreme Court considers the people who voted for him in the primary and a traditional law that says Navajos have the right to choose their leaders.
The Navajo Nation extends into the U.S. states of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah.
The Navajo language was used to create a secret code in World War II to battle the Japanese.