Navajo Nation Council Strongly Opposes Anti-Bilingual Initiative (Window Rock, AZ)

Council Slams Door On "English Only"
by Marley Shebala
Window Rock, AZ
July 22, 1999

Local opposition to an Arizona initiative to teach English only to students in the Arizona public school system was unanimous on Tuesday.

The Navajo Nation Council with a vote of 64 to zero "strongly opposed" a proposed Arizona initiative titled "English Language Education for Children in Public Schools."

A group known as English for the Children of Arizona is circulating petitions to get the initiative on the Arizona ballot in November 2000. According to the council's legislation, Ron Unz, a well-to-do California computer entrepreneur, presented a similar initiative in the state of California and it was passed by the state legislature last summer. Unz is now backing the Arizona initiative, which is a stricter version and would place all children with limited English in an "intensive one-year [only] English program," which is also called "sheltered English immersion" or "structured English immersion".

The structured/sheltered English would mix children of different language backgrounds and ages together and forbid teaching any subject, including reading and writing, in a language other than English. School officials, teachers and employees could be sued, found financially responsible and removed from office for five years for not implementing the English only initiative if it passed in November 2000.

The council noted in its legislation that the Navajo Nation is much more concerned about the continuing loss of the Navajo language and the relative lack of quality Navajo and English bilingual education programs. "These ideological attacks on bilingual education are understood as attacks on the rights of Navajo children and Navajo parents and on the future of the Navajo language and way of life," the council stated.

Navajo Nation Council delegate Jerry Bodie, who represents Sanostee, N.M., summed up the council's brief discussion of this issue with these words: "Once we lose our language we lose our culture and we're just another brown skinned American."

Bodie, who chairs the council's Human Services Committee, added that if the English only initiative is approved by the Arizona citizens, then the Navajo Nation would truly become part of America's "melting pot." He urged the Navajo Nation TV station to provide extensive coverage of the English only initiative in the Navajo language. And Bodie said that should happen not just today but in the next century.

He also recommended the buying of advertisements in news media surrounding the Navajo Nation so people will know that Navajo language and culture is at stake.