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Navajo president vetoes language-fluency changes

In this Oct. 3, 2014 file photo, Navajo presidential candidate Chris Deschene greets supporters in Window Rock, Ariz. (AP Photo/Felicia Fonseca, File)

In this Oct. 3, 2014 file photo, Navajo presidential candidate Chris Deschene greets supporters in Window Rock, Ariz. (AP Photo/Felicia Fonseca, File)

FLAGSTAFF ai??i?? The president of the Navajo Nation dealt a major setback to a candidate for the tribe’s top elected post when he vetoed a bill to let voters decide whether presidential hopefuls are proficient in the Navajo language.

Tribal law requires that anyone seeking the presidency speak fluent Navajo and understand the language inextricably tied to the culture. Lawmakers amended that requirement last week on an 11-10 vote, but Navajo President Ben Shelly rejected the legislation Tuesday.

The decision was being watched closely by Chris Deschene, who had been disqualified from the race over the fluency requirement. He ceased campaigning following the veto and said he would not explore any other legal options to stay in the race, said his spokeswoman, Stacy Pearson.

“It is with tremendous pride in our campaign and disappointment with the president’s veto that the future of my candidacy is uncertain,” Deschene said in a statement.

The tribe’s general election is scheduled Tuesday with Deschene’s name still on the ballot facing former President Joe Shirley Jr. The Navajo Supreme Court has ordered him removed from the race and the ballots reprinted with the third-place finisher from the August primary election, but election officials have yet to act on the order.

Attorneys for two men who challenged Deschene’s candidacy have asked the Supreme Court to hold election officials in contempt for defying a court order. Election officials said they awaiting advice from the tribe’s attorney general on how to implement the order and plan to meet again Friday.

The Supreme Court has scheduled a hearing in Chinle the same day on the request from attorneys David Jordan and Justin Jones, who are representing Dale Tsosie and Hank Whitethorne.

Deschene has not removed himself from the race entirely, Pearson said. He will be monitoring any decisions made by the Navajo Board of Election Supervisors, which has remained adamant about protecting voters’ rights and upholding a traditional tribal law that says Navajos have the right to choose their leaders, she said.

About 8,000 ballots absentee and early ballots have already been cast, according to the Navajo Election Administration.

The Navajo Nation Council also could override Shelly’s veto, but it would require 15 votes in a special session.

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