Navajo Tribal Chairman Peter MacDonald plans to submit legislation to the Tribal Council this summer to change the names of everything on the reservation from English to Navajo and to make the native tongue the official language of the sprawling reservation that covers parts of Utah, New Mexico and Arizona.
"This was born out of Proposition 106, and Mr. MacDonald did propose it," said Tazbah McCullah, press spokesman for the tribe. "It's a way for the Navajo Nation to escape the dilution of everything into English."Proposition 106, approved by Arizona voters in the November 1988 general election, made English the state's official language and prohibited state business from being conducted in any other language. It is being challenged in the courts.
The planned legislation would change the names of all reservation communities, historical sites, landmarks and roads from English to Navajo.
Dick Pinkerton, chairman of the state's Board of Geographic Names, estimates there are between 6,000 and 7,000 names of towns and geographic places in the Arizona part of the reservation.
He said some of those are already in Navajo or are derivatives of Navajo words.
The said the project would be enormous, pointing out that even the word Navajo itself is derived from a Spanish word. Traditional Navajos refer to tribal members as "dineh" in the Navajo language.
"The problem with the Navajo language is that everyone else would have extreme difficulty in the pronunciation," Pinkerton said, adding that well-known names on the reservation eventually could be printed in English, with Navajo in parentheses, on state maps.
Pinkerton said any name changes would have to be reviewed by his board and the U.S. Board on Geographic Names before they could be changed, adding that the state's historic-names statute prohibits changing the names of historic places.
McCullah said the Navajo Tribe can do what it wants without state approval because of tribal sovereignty.