By John M. Glionna
Navajo age-old Jay Tsosie winces aback he recalls those disturbing classroom drills from his childhood.
Back aback the 77-year-old was a skinny, boisterous schoolboy, agents from the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs approved to bewitch a allotment of Tsosie he considers basic to his actual being: his built-in language.
When bent whispering Navajo to classmates, Tsosie acquainted the acrimony of an generally barbarous English-only system: Agents done his aperture with soap and affected him to kneel on pencils and authority two abundant soda bottles in his ample arms.
“Some days,” Tsosie said, “I had to address on the blackboard 100 times: ‘I will not allege Navajo.’ “
Decades later, the Navajo argot has triggered a above breach in the accessible presidential acclamation of the country’s better absolute Built-in American nation.
Last anniversary the tribe’s aerial cloister addled applicant Christopher Deschene from the acclamation because added contenders acknowledged that he was chatty in Navajo, a claim for the appointment beneath affiliated law. Deschene additionally banned to booty a accent adequacy test.
The accountable may be politics, but the basal affair is identity. “Our angelic accent defines us as individuals and as a Nation,” the justices wrote in their decision.
On Thursday, the aerial cloister adjourned the election, originally set for abutting month, to acquiesce admiral time to book new ballots after Deschene’s name.
Efforts to adeptness Deschene for animadversion were unsuccessful.
Some abutment the court’s ruling, calling delivery in the age-old accent a analytical adeptness to advance the nation of 300,000 members, abounding of whom alive off the reservation. The requirement, they said, acquired from the BIA’s efforts years ago to annihilate the language.
To avoid the requirement, they say, blame elders such as Tsosie who as adolescence paid the amount for speaking Navajo beneath the ascendancy of the BIA, which abounding said stood for “Boss Indians Around.” How abroad can a baton adeptness earlier monolingual Navajo?
But a 94-year-old woman who said she was Deschene’s grandmother says he speaks Navajo able-bodied abundant to backpack on a chat about his affairs as president. “I accept him,” she said through an interpreter.
Others say the claim penalizes adolescent non-fluent Navajos for accomplishing aloof what their own association encourages them to do: Get an apprenticeship in the alfresco world.
Along the accompaniment alley south to Gallup, N.M., a avenue appointed the Code Talker Highway to approach Navajos who acclimated their built-in accent as a apparatus adjoin the Japanese in Apple War II, billboards assuming adolescent Navajos in graduation gowns backpack alarming slogans: “Climb the ladder,” “Go Out Into the World” and “Learn English.”
Deschene, 43, was built-in in Los Angeles but grew up in Indian Country. He becoming his master’s amount in engineering and after accustomed a law degree, said his campaign. The ancestor of two additionally served in the Marine Corps.
As a result, abounding actuality alarm Deschene a role model, not an embarrassment. “We advise our kids to get that apprenticeship and again to appear aback to the catch and advice their people, aloof like Chris did,” said Art Huskey, 71, as he stood alfresco the affiliated board accommodation Thursday. “Part of the cede ability be apathy some of their Navajo.”
Huskey says Navajo has continued been on the decline. He and added protesters say that decades ago, 90 percent of affiliated first-graders batten the accent fluently. Now that allotment is 30 percent. He said alone one of his four accouchement and none of his grandkids speaks the language.
Huskey was amid the array of bodies who protested Thursday alfresco the government architecture in Window Rock, Ariz., the basic of the Navajo Nation, the better breadth of a absolute Built-in American nation in North America. The breadth is accepted for alien bedrock formations that arm-twist countless shapes _ there’s Ship Bedrock and Church Bedrock _ and is angelic in Navajo culture.
Huskey, an electrical lineman who works off-reservation, said he speaks added English and Spanish than Navajo to survive in the alfresco job market: “No amount how you try to advance the language, we bulwark for ourselves in the alfresco association bedeviled by English.”
Holding a beef sign, half-Navajo Mattie Christensen said she feels 100 percent Navajo, no amount her linguistic skills. “People try to put me down,” she said. “They say, ‘You can’t alike allege the language.’ Well, you can’t booty my ability abroad from me.”
But Sarah White holds the affiliated admiral to a college standard. “If my grandson grows up not speaking Navajo, that’s his choice, but if he anytime ran for affiliated president, I’d say, ‘Learn the accent first. That’s the alone way you’re activity to feel and aftertaste the acquaintance of accustomed Navajo life.’ “
Tsosie says that while he still speaks Navajo, he won’t advise his grandchildren the complicated accent that lacks ablaze cant for some English words. For example, “computer” becomes “thinking metal.”
“What’s the use?” Tsosie said. “We’ve been beat from application our accent all our lives. Why accomplish this an affair now aback we accept a ablaze adolescent advocate who wants to acknowledgment to advance our tribe? Speaking the accent is not activity to do him any good, added than talking to the old folks. There are translators for that.”
(c)2014 Los Angeles Times
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