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Disqualified Navajo candidate appeals

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A former Navajo Nation candidate for president says the order disqualifying him from the race over his lack of fluency should be thrown out after it was discovered that the hearing officer who issued it also did not qualify for his job.

Attorneys for Chris Deschene filed the request to the Office of Hearings and Appeals on Monday. They argue the disqualification is void because it was issued by former Chief Hearing Officer Richie Nez, who was removed from the post after it was discovered he did not meet qualifications.

The case stems from grievances filed by two of Deschene’s primary election opponents, who cited a Navajo law that requires anyone seeking the tribe’s top elected office to be fluent in Navajo. It is the first time a candidate has been challenged under the law, approved by the Tribal Council in the early 1990s.

Deschene has said he is proficient in speaking Navajo and that he proved it on the campaign trail.

Nez disqualified Deschene in October after Deschene refused to take a Navajo language test. Deschene appealed to the Navajo Nation Supreme Court but lost. The justices kept the lower court’s ruling in place by dismissing Deschene’s appeal over lack of jurisdiction because Deschene did not include a copy of his disqualification order with his notice of appeal. The general election, which was scheduled for Nov. 4, has been put on hold. However, the high court ordered that the special election be held no later than Jan. 31.

Russell Begaye will face former tribal President Joe Shirley Jr. for the top elected post.

Navajo Nation Council delegates have since considered legislation that sought to eliminate the language requirement. Last week, delegates unanimously passed a bill that would keep the language requirement in place but would not require the government or courts to enforce it. The bill would not apply retroactively, meaning current presidential candidates would not be affected.

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