Guest Editorials <br>
President Begaye addresses English Only Proposition 203
At the beginning of the Begaye/McKenzie administration, Vice President Taylor McKenzie, M.D., and myself have worked with Speaker Edward T. Begay and Chief Justice Robert Yazzie to develop and implement two guiding principles of the Navajo Nation. The two guiding principles are: (1) the preservation of Navajo culture, tradition, and language; and (2) the preservation, protection, and enhancement of Navajo sovereignty. It is the intention of the Branch Chiefs of the Navajo Nation to utilize the two guiding principles in any and all decisions made on behalf of the Navajo Nation for the next 50 years.
Recently, within the states of Arizona and Utah, there has been a push to implement English Only education curriculum into the education systems of state schools, including schools within the Navajo Nation. In Arizona, the movement has been more aggressive and more rapid where a referendum vote will be included in the upcoming November 7, 2000 general election. A proposition known as “Proposition 203” is the ballot measure that will be used to attempt to provide English-only education curriculum throughout state schools.
The idea that state schools should provide English-only curriculum is detrimental to students, educators, and administrators of schools within the Navajo Nation.
Providing alternative language curriculum in schools is not unique to the Navajo Nation. Alternative language curricula assists and supports English language curriculum. Proposition 203 will take that support away, as it will affect a variety of languages already taught in Arizona school districts.
Proposition 203 is wrong and I want to tell the Navajo people why.
The Navajo Way of Life is based on the Navajo language. By tradition, the history of our people and the stories of our people are handed down from one generation to the next through oral communication. Naturally, the true essence and meanings for many Navajo stories, traditions and customs cannot be fully transmitted, understood or communicated as told through non-Navajo languages.
Proposition 203 will detrimentally affect the Navajo Way of Life. It is unfortunate that many Navajo children begin their education with little or no Navajo language skills. In a broad sense, however, these children currently have a choice to use their native language because they have the option to learn the language in school. In general, it the language of choice is not taught or spoken at home, there are curricula in schools (Navajo and English) that will enable a student’s ability to learn to communicate. To exemplify a comprehensive approach to education, Navajo Nation law calls for Navajo youth to be educated in both the English and the Navajo language (10 NNC §102, Navajo Nation Education Policies). Furthermore, in 1995, President Albert Hale signed a Navajo Nation Executive Order which requires that the Navajo language be the language of instruction in the Navajo Headstart programs Clearly, these two Navajo Nation initiatives are significant to the education of Navajo children. The existence of these Navajo laws is complementary to the position to reject Proposition 203.
If enacted, Proposition 203 will take this choice away from our children.
According to the Navajo Division of Diné Education, if passed, Proposition 203 would: (1) force all “English learners” into one-year English Only programs; (2) forbid students from participating in serious Navajo language classes; (3) deny parents the right to have their child excluded from this program and to get their child into any other language development program; (4) eliminate all language-related civil rights from Arizona law, affecting parent choice; (5) threaten educators with court costs and damages, loss of jobs, and banishment.
I encourage all Arizona citizens to register for the November 7, 2000 general election, and please encourage your friends and family members to register to vote. Most importantly, vote NO to proposition 203 on November 7, 2000.
The Navajo Division of Diné Education has public education materials available upon your request. Please call the Navajo Division Diné Education at (520) 871-7695 or (520) 871-7472 for copies of these education materials. Become an informed voter and make the right choice.
I am asking for your assistance to get the word out to your friends and family to learn about Proposition 203. Remember, your efforts will help Navajo children, and children throughout Arizona.
I will vote NO on Proposition 203. I encourage all Arizona voters to vote NO on Proposition 203. The Navajo Nation government has the responsibility to preserve Navajo culture, tradition, and language. Your efforts will help to preserve our rights. Thank you and may you always walk in beauty.
— President Kelsey Begaye