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Shelly Ponders New Legislation

December 29
15:35 2014
Lorenzo Curley

Navajo Nation Council Delegate, Lorenzo Curley

Once again, Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly has before him a decision on the importance of a Navajo President having the ability to speak the Navajo language fluently. The Navajo Nation Council passed a new piece of legislation just prior to Christmas that changes the requirements for the president, vice president, delegates to the Navajo Nation Council and those who are members of land and farm boards.

The legislation was sponsored by delegate Lorenzo Curley, who wanted to get the issue of language out of the way for fear it would interfere with future elections over and over again. However the new law, if signed by Shelly, will not involve the 2014 Presidential race.

Mr. Curley made it clear that he didn’t sponsor the bill in order to help Chris Deschene. He just didn’t want the issue to become common place.

Under the new law, if signed, the fluency requirement would still stand, but it will be strictly up to the voters to determine if their candidate has that ability, not the courts or failed candidates. If the voter casts his or her ballot for a particular candidate, it will be assumed the voter is content with their language ability.

Deschene is the Lechee native and Page High School graduate who seemed to be the people’s choice in 2014, with a groundswell of popularity. That is, until two failed candidates accused him of not speaking the language fluently. It is an accusation never proven, and denied vehemently by Mr. Deschene.

This is not the first time such a bill has been presented to President Shelly. In the midst of the Deschene controversy, the Council approved a similar bill that would have included the 2014 election. Shelly vetoed the legislation seemingly out of hand.

Two amendments were added to this new legislation prior to it being voted upon by Council. One of them would have the voters decide on their candidate’s ability to speak Navajo. The second amendment, as mentioned, kept the new law from being retroactive to the 2014 election.

That election is still up in the air date-wise, but we do know who will be on the ballot; Joe Shirley Junior and Russell Begaye. There have also been rumblings about a write-in campaign for Chris Deschene.

From the time Mr. Shelly received the new legislation, he has ten days to either approve or veto it.

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