- Associated Press - Sunday, June 21, 2015

WINDOW ROCK, Ariz. (AP) - Navajos who want a say in changing the language requirements for the tribe’s top two elected posts have until the close of business Monday to register to vote.

The tribe is holding a referendum election on July 21 that asks voters if they want to determine whether candidates for president and vice president speak and understand Navajo well enough to hold office. They currently are required to understand Navajo and speak it fluently, and read and write English.

Tribal lawmakers approved the referendum and $317,000 to fund the election after presidential hopeful Chris Deschene was disqualified last year for failing to prove he met that requirement. Deschene argued that he was being singled out with a language-fluency test that was developed in a court challenge against him and refused to take it.

President Russell Begaye said the referendum is part of a “brainwashing agenda” to have Navajo people assimilate into American society. He is hoping voters will see that the ability to speak Navajo should be preserved, not done away with.

“I would hope that our people will promptly interpret the referendum and insist on the need to have the top two leaders of this tribe to speak our Navajo language that defines who we are as a nation,” Begaye said in a statement.

Former Navajo President Ben Shelly rejected lawmakers’ attempts to change the language requirements through legislation. Shelly said the Navajo people should have a thoughtful, deliberate decision about what it takes to be tribal president and decide at the polls.

Anyone who voted in the past two reservation-wide elections is not required to register again for the referendum election as long as their basic voting information hasn’t changed.

Monday also marks the start of early voting. Navajos can request an absentee ballot or walk in to any of the election offices to cast a ballot.

If the referendum question is approved, it essentially would eliminate the Navajo language requirement for the presidency and vice presidency, starting with the 2018 election.

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