Dr. Karletta Daané Chief: professor, spouse, and mother
By Jason Morgan Edwards
Special to the Times
Native women excel in all aspects of giving and nurturing life. Even in those regards, Dr. Karletta Daané Chief (Bitterwater and Near The Water, Many Goats on her mother’s side; Red Running Into The Water and Giant People Clans on her father’s side) is an extraordinary young woman.
She is not “just” a Diné hydrologist and assistant professor at the University of Arizona Department of Soil, Water, and Environmental Sciences; and, renowned lecturer. She is also a wife and the mother of two young boys.
Chief earned her Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Civil and Environmental Engineering from Stanford University. She continued her studies at U of A, where she earned her PhD in Hydrology and Water Resources.
Her educational path was not always clear to her. Rather, she describes it as a series of steps through a tunnel, always pursuing the light at the end.
“It was a series of connecting tunnels. It wasn’t like I came from the reservation thinking I was going to get a PhD because of A, B, C,” said Chief.
“It was a series of experiences and a lot of stubbing my toe along the way.”
The whole idea of her attending college was not exactly expected of her. No one in her immediate family had attended college.
Chief recalls, “It was something that my parents hoped for me. And, they let me know that they supported me. My dad was taken away from his family when he went to boarding school at 12 years old. Despite the challenges he faced, he was able to excel.”
Chief’s father earned an IBM-funded scholarship to attend college. But he was never able to use it due to family and cultural obligations.
“My parents hoped I would choose to pursue education. They knew the opportunity was there. They didn’t expect me to stay home and continue a lot of the cultural obligations, as a woman, like being arranged in marriage. It was like picking a different path and delaying that next step in terms of how it had been for my parents,” she said.
She cites the desire to help her family and community as the main reasons she studied and worked so hard.