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Navajos to vote on role language plays in tribal presidency

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. (AP) — It’s a question that dominated conversation in the Navajo Nation presidential election: Should the tribe’s top leader be fluent in the language?

Voters will settle that question Tuesday in a referendum vote.

Candidates for tribal president and vice president are required to understand Navajo and speak it fluently, and read and write English. Tribal courts can enforce that qualification.

If the referendum passes, voters would decide whether candidates speak and understand Navajo well enough to hold office.

Lawmakers called for the referendum after a candidate in the most recent presidential election refused to prove he could speak fluent Navajo.

The language debate goes to the heart of Navajo identity. The language is a defining part of the culture, but some Navajos don’t believe it should dictate who gets to seek the tribe’s top posts.

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