"Must fluently speak and understand Navajo and read and write English": Navajo Leadership in a Language Shift World

Lloyd Lance Lee


On August 26, 2014, Chris Deschene from LeChee chapter in Arizona came in second in the Navajo Presidential primary election. He would face off with former President Joe Shirley, Jr. from Chinle chapter. A little over a week later, former Presidential candidates Dale E. Tsosie and Hank Whitethorne filed a petition against Chris Deschene claiming he does not qualify to run for the Office of Navajo President because he does not met the Navajo language fluency qualification. Initially, the Navajo Election Administration dismissed the petition but Tsosie and Whitethorne appealed the decision. The Navajo Nation Supreme Court agreed language fluency is a legitimate qualification and Deschene needs to be tested to determine if he is qualified to run for the Office of Navajo President. Deschene was disqualified. This incident has brought up many questions regarding language and Navajo leadership in general where many young Navajo children have experienced language shift where their first language is English and not Navajo. This article analyzes what is Navajo leadership in a language shift world.

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