Grievance filed in Navajo Nation presidential race

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PHOENIX -- A former Navajo Nation presidential candidate is challenging the qualifications of a current candidate for the office, adding another wrinkle to the beleaguered race that has already seen a postponement of elections.

Myron McLaughlin, who finished eighth in the primary election for tribal president, filed a grievance late last week with the Navajo Office of Hearings and Appeals seeking to have candidate Russell Begaye removed from the ballot, The Daily Times reported.

Begaye is a shareholder representative for the Navajo Nation Oil and Gas Company, and was involved in a federal lawsuit that sought to overturn a decision by the tribe's Supreme Court that reinstated the company's CEO and five board members.

The court declined to hear the case, but McLaughlin's complaint states that Begaye violated tribal law by being a party in the lawsuit, demonstrating that he does not have an "unswerving loyalty" to the tribe and "attacked the sovereignty of the nation."

Begaye denied the allegations, telling the newspaper that the lawsuit was not filed against the tribe but against the company's CEO and board members.

"The whole thing, to me, is that it's a ploy," Begaye said. "They don't want me on the ballot."

Begaye finished third in the Aug. 26 primary election. Only the top two finishers are eligible to run.

But last week, the Navajo Nation Supreme Court ruled that Begaye will replace former presidential candidate Chris Deschene on the ballot after Deschene, who finished second in the primary, was disqualified for refusing to show he met tribal requirements for Navajo language fluency.

Tuesday's planned presidential election has since been postponed.

McLaughlin now wants Begaye replaced on the ballot with the fourth-place finisher in the primary to run against former Navajo President Joe Shirley Jr.

"I'm just trying to do what's right for the Navajo Nation," McLaughlin said.

The Office of Hearings and Appeals has 15 business days to review the complaint.

Tuesday's election still features races for tribal lawmakers, the election board and school board, and Navajos will be voting for other county, state and federal offices. And while Deschene's name still appears on the ballot, the presidential tally won't be released with the results considered invalid.

The dispute over fluency has touched all branches of the Navajo Nation government and prompted a discussion over the role the Navajo language plays in the tribe's culture. More people speak the Navajo language than any other American Indian language.

Navajo President Ben Shelly last week vetoed legislation that would have let voters decide if candidates - including those in the 2014 election - are proficient enough in the Navajo language. Deschene considers a pending bill to override that veto as an option to possibly stay in the race, but it's unclear if the bill could nullify the Supreme Court's orders.