Experts: traditional Diné teachings will help troubled youth

By Terry Bowman
Navajo Times

WINDOW ROCK, June 20, 2013

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W ould traditional Diné teachings steer troubled young men into a more positive direction?

"From what we understand by a lot of the researches done, yes," said coordinator of the 2013 Youth Culture Festival, Lucy Laughter-Begay. "It builds resiliency, meaning if they know where they are coming from, the strong identity will help them face the challenges they have."

Using traditional teachings to address issues such drug addiction, bullying and suicide among youth was among the topics discussed during the event, which was sponsored by the Tséhootsooí Medical Center's Methamphetamine Suicide Prevention Initiative and held last week.

"Since school was out for summer we thought we would have this event for the community to promote the use of traditional teachings," said Begay, who is also the project director for the Initiative. "… We can encourage our people, especially our youth, (about) the concept of their identity to give them confidence and strength as Dine' people, and using that information for their own protective factor."

According to Begay, though the event was targeted at the youth, parents were also encouraged to attend, as there were workshops on parenthood and the importance of setting a solid foundation.

Among the speakers was traditional consultant Rex Harvey, whose presentation was titled "Traditional Roles of Navajo Males."




"For young men, I just want them to take care of themselves and to be proper with themselves," he said. "To have respect for themselves and grow individually, internally and externally so they are able to have a brighter future for themselves..."

Currently living in Montezuma Creek, Utah, Harvey works for the Utah Navajo Health System's Behavior Health Department as a traditional consultant, working with troubled adolescent males, using his traditional teachings and lessons in his practice.

"I believe the Navajo youth is where we have to get the traditional teachings embedded in," he said, "so down the road they can learn how to be better parents and people."

Unlike the other speakers presenting, one thing that set Harvey apart from the others was his use of humor.

"I just want to make it fun for the youth because I find that humor is the key to get them to listen and to understand," Harvey said.

With many cheers and laughter from his audience, it seemed Harvey's humor was indeed working as he drew the attention of everyone in the audience.

"I love it when a kid laughs, I like it when they're smiling," he said. "I like it when a kid is receiving something good and they walk away saying, 'Hey that was really good, I'm going to share it with my dad and my grandma.'"

Another expert who presented was John Tsosie Jr., a traditional counselor for the Tséhootsooí Medical Center.

"The Navajo youth have issues with substance abuse, frustration, (and) depression …" he said. "As long as they understand where they're coming from, it helps."

Tsosie said some of the young people he works with using his philosophy has helped many graduate and to prevent high school dropout.

"In that way, I do believe it is effective," he said.

Of next year, Begay said she hopes to make the youth festival an annual event.

"If our funding and donations keep coming we want to have this event annually," she said. "Since our funding comes directly from Congress, they're asking 'what is it? What is the secret to the Navajo still being recognized as a people?'

"And the secret," she said, "is the use of our tradition, our own teachings, our own language, we're saying it's a strong, sacred thing."

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