WINDOW ROCK, Ariz. - The Navajo people voted to change the fluency requirements July 21 for those seeking to be president or vice president by letting the people decide whether a candidate is fluent enough with their vote.
With only 21 percent of eligible voters casting a ballot, the final vote was 13,017 to 11,778. A higher percentage of the western agency voted in favor of the referendum at 58 percent.
The presidential election was delayed five months as the Board of Election Supervisors, the Navajo Nation Supreme Court and the Navajo Nation Council wrestled with the question of fluency and whether elected leaders of the Nation should be held to the same standard of fluency the Nation had always relied on, The Board of Election Supervisors were held in contempt of court after they refused to remove Chris Deschene's name from the presidential ballot. Deschene was ultimately disqualified from running for president because he refused to answer questions to the Office of Hearings and Appeals proving that he could speak Navajo fluently.
The new language states that the Navajo people will decide on whether the president and vice president meet the Navajo and English language requirements by their vote.
Navajo Nation president Russell Begaye and Vice President Jonathan
Nez said after the vote that it was time for the Nation to move forward and begin the healing process for the Navajo people.
"We appreciate the fact that the people were given the opportunity to vote, even though we were disappointed with the number of people that came out to vote," Begaye said. "In the future, we recommend that referendums be voted on during the general election so we don't spend more money than we need to."
Nez said they believe the Navajo people know the importance and value of the Navajo language as the foundation of the Navajo Nation.
The administration has said that as the Navajo Nation moves into the future, more referendums will go before the people to decide on critical issues like the language debate.
"Our stance was to encourage the people to participate in the voting process and we support the voice of the people," Begaye said.
He said the language must be protected to ensure that it is spoken for centuries to come and that it doesn't become extinct like tribal language has among some tribes.
"As the Nation advances, now, more than ever, there will be a revitalization of the Navajo language in our schools, places of work, and most importantly, in our homes," Nez said.
Begaye and Nez thanked the Navajo people for voting on the referendum and that they recognized the Navajo language is vital for the future of the Navajo people.
"We appreciate the vote that took place and we're ready to move forward as a Nation," Begaye said. "We need to work together, support each other and encourage one another because we are one people, one nation."