Shelly Vetoes Council Legislation Amending Fluency, Deschene Continues Fight


“We are a Nation of laws. I took an oath to uphold the law,” Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly said following his veto of Navajo Nation Council Resolution No. CO-47-14 yesterday.

The resolution was of an emergency legislation to amend election law that was narrowly approved in the early morning hours of October 24. As ICTMN reported, the legislation was written to be retroactive and apply to the pending election that has seen controversy surrounding Chris Deschene’s Navajo fluency being questioned.

RELATED: Deschene Out of Navajo Election, Presidential Vote Looks to Be Postponed

The purpose of the legislation was to allow voters to choose their leaders and determine candidates’ language proficiency without discarding the fluency requirement.

The amendments would be the first major overhaul to the election code since 1990 according to a Navajo Nation press release.

“The decision to amend the language requirements in Title 11, the Navajo Nation Election Code, must be brought before the Navajo people through a referendum vote,” Shelly said. “This decision is far too important and it is one the people need to decide on.”

Shelly went on to say that the language amendments were a step in the right direction, there are other considerations to be taken into account and that a thorough review of the code with ways to address it would be more beneficial than a piecemeal approach.

“This election cycle has been mired in debate and controversy over issues regarding the fluency qualifications of candidates for elected office,” President Shelly said.

The election process is still up in the air, as Deschene has not removed himself from the race as reported by Felicia Fonseca for the AP. Deschene’s spokeswoman Stacy Pearson said he will continue to monitor the decisions made.

Following the President’s veto, Deschene released a statement, which he posted on his campaign’s Facebook page, “It is with tremendous pride in our campaign and disappointment with the President's veto, that the future of my candidacy is uncertain. The Board of Election Supervisors has firmly protected our fundamental right to choose our own leader. They have yet to change their position despite the court's determination.”

The Navajo Supreme Court on October 23 ordered the elections be postponed with new ballots to be reprinted immediately without Deschene’s name on them. With around 8,000 absentee and early ballots already being turned in, according to AP. Leaving dozens of Deschene supporters angry on Tuesday.

“The Navajo Nation Supreme Court ordered the 2014 ballots to be reprinted and the election unavoidably rescheduled to ensure a valid election. I therefore exercise my veto authority,” Shelly said.

Meanwhile, Leonard Tsosie of the Council introduced legislation at 6:30 p.m. yesterday to override Shelly’s veto. This legislation according to the Council will be eligible for committee action on November 3, the day before the original elections between Deschene and Joe Shirley Jr. were scheduled to take place.

Tsosie’s override will require 15 votes in a special session according to AP.

“I understand the concern about the language, but we can work together to revive that,” Tsosie told AP.

Shirley Jr. has stated he would not support any effort to change tribal law in regards to tribal fluency.

“It's too early to speculate the future of my service to the Navajo people. I have spent my career helping to solve serious problems facing our nation,” Deschene said. “Again, thank you for your contribution to our democratic process. Your voice needs to be heard. Vote. And let's walk together with pride and peace.”

“Diné bizaad is sacred. Navajo leaders should have both language and cultural fluency in order to [be] qualified. Every society has an obligation to hold onto their traditions,” Shelly said.

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100IndigenousAmerican's picture
Submitted by 100IndigenousAm... on
The Dine' President vetoed the legislation with careful reflection; in a Dine' language audio/video announcement to the Dine' people he explained his reasoning very succinctly using the highest level of the Dine language. A solid majority of the Dine' Nation that understand the language beyond verbs and nouns would agree without hesitation that his decision was brave, honorable and respectful. It is a victory for the ancestors, logic and the continuation of our Dine' uniqueness in the beautiful fabric we call Indigenous Americans. Now is the time move on, and internally reflect on the ineffective confused policies proposed every passing month by the USBIA and USBIE that is abusive to Native teachers, especially if English is a second language. Clueless Native and Non-Native leaders all the way to the community schools staff our US BIE. Non-Native speaking people without teaching proficiency certificates or National Board Certification occupy every department at the highest level. This in itself is an indirect negative impact, it prevents a real positive change that will benefit the future of the Dine' Nation. Meaningful education less data-driven, and incline towards critical-thinking is the real security and hope for all Indigenous people. This form of intellectual development paves the way for future generations’ inclusion into every level of a global economy. We can do it better with our language intact because it is the bond to our cosmic being.

bullbear's picture
Submitted by bullbear on
The fact is and remains that all tribal nations make-up are changing. Never in history have so many tribes benefitted from gaming although some are more successful than others. Tribal nations are bickering with one another to see who ends up with the higher hand. Many nations have lost their tribal tongue and for that matter, many tribal nations no longer exist. Full-blooded tribal members are becoming more difficult to find with inter-tribal marriages and non-Indian marital partners. Tribal languages have been dissipating since the inception of western civilization teaching dating back to boarding schools, if not earlier. Technology is widely opening the world to tribal nations. A few generations ago, who would have ever known that one day, grandma and grandpa would hold a wireless phone speaking to a relative in another country while standing on their reclusive tribal homeland. People, the younger generation is speaking, perhaps not in their fluent tribal tongue, but their voices will be heard. There is no questioning if they will ever make leaders because the inevitable is upon us - they will. Trying to hold back the desires and qualifications of young able-minded and able-bodied leaders who do not speak their language fluently is like trying to hold back the rain. History is changing. If we are unwilling to bend, we become vulnerable to a history that has beaten us down because we did not stand together and fight for the future of our children and their children. Bend or break? The choice is ours.