Tribe's high court orders candidate off ballot

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Chris Deschene By Jennifer Thomas Chris Deschene By Jennifer Thomas

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. (AP) -- A candidate for president of the Navajo Nation lost another round in a language fluency dispute Wednesday, all but ending his bid for office.

The Navajo Nation Supreme Court upheld a ruling from a lower court that said Chris Deschene was not qualified to seek the tribe's top elected post after he declined to demonstrate whether he is fluent in Navajo.

Tribal law requires presidential candidates on the nation's largest reservation to be fluent in the language, a defining part of Navajo culture.

The tribe's highest court did not rule on the merits of the case. Instead, the justices dismissed it over lack of jurisdiction because Deschene did not include a copy of his disqualification order with his notice of appeal.

They ruled out any possibility to have the appeal reconsidered.

"Any litigant who is serious about his case will ensure that all of the court's jurisdictional requirements are satisfied," the justices wrote.

Deschene's attorney and campaign representatives didn't immediately respond to requests for comment.

The Supreme Court said election officials must move up the third-place finisher from the primary election. It's unclear whether Navajos will choose a new tribal president Nov. 4.

Deschene came in second to Joe Shirley Jr. in the August primary, but his campaign was overshadowed by questions regarding his fluency in the Navajo language.

Challenges brought him by two opponents in the primary, Hank Whitethorne and Dale Tsosie, also sparked a conversation about the importance of Navajo across the reservation.

Deschene has said he's proficient in the language.

However, he refused to take a fluency test developed by the personnel in the tribe's education department. Deschene also declined to answer questions in a deposition or as a witness in the case against him. He said it was not right that he be singled out and tested on his language ability.

Richie Nez of the tribe's Office of Hearings and Appeals said he had no choice but to disqualify Deschene after the candidate failed to prove he could speak fluent Navajo.

The Supreme Court remanded the case to Nez after ruling that the tribe's language was too important to disregard as a qualification for the presidency. The language is the foundation of the culture and traditions, said to have been handed down by the Holy People.

Nez earlier dismissed the challenges as untimely.

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