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Are You Navajo Enough Without the Language?
October 14, 2014 - By: - In: In the News / Awards, Language - Comments Off on Are You Navajo Enough Without the Language?

Does the president really need to be a native speaker in order to successfully look after the nation’s interests? When it comes to the Navajo Nation, so far the answer has been yes. Only fluent Navajo speakers are allowed to become the tribe’s president. Is this really necessary though?

Language is inextricably linked with culture; knowing another language is not just about vocabulary and turns of phrases, but knowledge of the values and culture that are transmitted through those words as well. Being president – whether of the Navajo Nation or the United States – is more than about politics and political leadership. Just look at the U.S. presidential races and count how many times the phrase “American values” is uttered.

There is nothing wrong with a nation expecting its leader to represent the nation’s cultural values. The question, however, is whether not being a fluent speaker of the nation’s language prevents that person from being an effective cultural leader as well as a political one.

Of the Navajo Nation’s 330,000 members, approximately only half of the members actually speak Navajo. This can be traced to a number of factors. For example, at one time the United States actively tried to repress use of the Navajo language. But also a number of Navajo parents have decided not to teach their kids the language, instead prioritizing English as a way to get ahead.

The result is that half of the Navajo Nation is ineligible to lead the tribe and participate in its governance. Apart from the fact that the nation’s legislative sessions are held in Navajo, the implicit message is that non-Navajo speakers are not Navajo enough to be leaders.

Only time will tell how the Navajo Nation will choose to address the issue. Will the Navajo Nation relax its language requirement? Will it see to it that all Navajos learn the language? Or will it continue to ignore the potential of many of its members?

What do you think?

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