Navajo Office of Hearings and Appeals dismisses two more grievances

Noel Lyn Smith
The Daily Times

FARMINGTON — The Navajo Office of Hearings and Appeals has dismissed two more grievances regarding the qualifications of a candidate for tribal president.

Both complaints were filed Sept. 5 in the Office of Hearings and Appeals in Window Rock, Ariz., and were dismissed on Sept. 9 by chief hearing officer Richie Nez.

One of the filings was against members of the Navajo Board of Election Supervisors and the Navajo Election Administration for allowing presidential candidate Chris Deschene to be certified as a candidate despite not fluently speaking or understanding the Navajo language.

The second grievance was filed against "unknown respondents" and also alleged that a presidential candidate was not qualified because he cannot speak the Navajo language fluently.

In both dismissal orders, Nez wrote that the petitioners were not candidates in the primary election and that in 1995, the Navajo Nation Supreme Court ruled that a voter who was not a candidate for office does not have standing to challenge a candidate's qualifications.

In addition to these grievances, Nez dismissed seven others the same day and for similar reasons.

Each petitioner has 10 days to file an appeal with the Supreme Court, according to Navajo law.

Judicial Branch spokeswoman Karen Francis said no appeals have been submitted to the Supreme Court as of late Monday afternoon.

Registered voters Sarah Jane White and Victoria Gutierrez were among those who filed grievances with the Office of Hearings and Appeals.

In a telephone interview on Monday, White expressed disappointment that her grievance was dismissed without any further investigation into the method used by the election administration to certify candidates.

"They have no concerns about what we have to say," she said about the Office of Hearings and Appeals.

White said she filed the grievance because it is important for the tribal president to speak and understand the Navajo language. She said there would be a communication barrier between Deschene and the people since he lacks that ability.

"When you talk Navajo, your mind automatically relates to the earth," White said.

Gutierrez said she commends Deschene for wanting to learn the Navajo language, but there are strong feelings from many about his lack of fluency.

"It's a wound that needs to be opened," she said.

Both remain disappointed about the Sept. 9 decision and said that they still are considering appeals to the Supreme Court.

Concerns also remain about the Deschene campaign posting petitioners information online in a press release and on Facebook.

Lambert Benally, Deschene's campaign manager, said the information that was posted on Facebook was removed Friday.

"I was told to take it down. Whether or not it was a result of the concerns, I won't comment on that," Benally said.

Deschene shared his opinion about the dismissal orders in a Sept. 10 press release.

He said voters have demonstrated their confidence in his campaign and called the action of the those who filed grievances "disgraceful."

"The truth is that thousands of our children are struggling to preserve our language, and many see my success as an inspiration," Deschene said.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636. Follow her @nsmithdt on Twitter.