Require Diné K'ehji in all schools

April 9, 2013

Text size: A A A

R ecently I read about a very sad (and in my opinion) avoidable problem on the Diné Nation. I read that the Tsehootsooi Diné Bi'olta' Navajo language school was set to close its doors next year and that the school will scale down to kindergarten to 5th graders to be housed in a wing of the elementary school.

I have faith in the community as well as the administration that this catastrophe can be (or probably already is) avoided. I write today to express why it would be a catastrophe to close the school, but also to express why it is a tragedy that all schools on Dinéland do not require at least one hour of Diné K'ehji instruction every single day.

Diné K'ehji is the language which is the foundation and glue for our society. If we seek a 21st Century where our youth are knowledgeable and proud of their roots, they will have confidence in their other pursuits as they grow.

It's also a tragedy because we can easily require our schools to have one hour of language instruction while at the very least keeping our current academic standards - if not improving them through increased esteem. I know because I attended a school that was conducted half in Diné K'ehji - and it did not hold me back - in fact I would argue it has had the opposite effect on my character.

I am proud to say I was schooled from kindergarten to the fourth grade at Rock Point Community School. Their instruction was vital to my understanding of the Diné language orally, as well as my mastery of both reading and writing the language.

I have since studied at several other schools including Stanford and Harvard and my foundation of Diné K'ehji has served to bolster my education and perspective. I do not buy the argument that learning my indigenous language will hold me back - it only enhances my perspective. I have studied with many smart and accomplished individuals for whom English was a second or even third language, and they have further disproved the notion that limiting education to English-only is detrimental to development.

Many of my peers who did not have the opportunity to learn Diné K'ehji in their homes or have the opportunity to attend a school like Rock Point want to learn the language, however it is difficult when jobs, families and friends become factors. Schools however have a captive child audience for at least seven hours of each day. Let us take back one hour of this day for Diné K'ehji instruction and our children will thank us for it in the future.

It is unacceptable that there should be even any threat of the Diné Bi'olta' closing - we should be moving in the other direction. We need to work with the Arizona, New Mexico, Utah and BIE school policy administrators to design a system where Diné children learn the Diné language.

Jackson Slim Brossy
Washington, D.C.

Disability should not be barrier to services

In previous editions of the Navajo Times, letters have been submitted on various disability initiatives of the Navajo Nation Advisory Council on Disabilities, the Native American Disability Law Center (the Law Center), and the Navajo Nation Office of Special Education and Rehab Services, related to needs and issues of Navajos with Disabilities. This letter is to provide updates of these initiatives in collaboration with the Navajo officials.

In an effort to evaluate voter accessibility for NWD, surveys of 25 polling sites across the Navajo Nation that host federal, state, county and Navajo Nation elections were conducted. This survey was to assess the barriers that may hinder NWD in accessing a polling site, including the parking area, pathways leading to the polling place, the entrance and exit area and the location and size of the polling area.

A comprehensive report has been written that discusses major barriers that exist at each given polling site that would hinder NWD to fully participate in the election process. This report will be disseminated to the Office of the President, the Navajo Council and to the Navajo Election Administration to initiate discussion towards corrective action.

In addition, meetings have been held with the NEA and the Hospitality Committee of the Quality Inn to address the lack of an elevator at the Central NEA office, located in the Quality Inn. Due to the unavailability of an elevator to the NEA Office, located on the second floor, NWD that use wheelchairs, walkers or other various disabilities can't access the NEA for services.

Also, the parking area and pathway to the NEA offices consist of major barriers for wheelchairs and other assistive devices. These barriers continue to be discussed towards resolution.

The second disability initiative is accessibility to public housing services for NWD. The NNACOD, the Law Center and OSERS have been invited by Navajo Housing Authority to attend their 504-team meetings. Attendance of these meetings is to ensure the rights of NWD are being considered in the revision of NHA Policies, availability of housing units for NWD and that NWD are provided appropriate housing during NHA's current renovation and construction efforts.

These meetings have been currently been put on hold due to contractual disagreement with the architectural consultants.

A third initiative is related to NWD for accessibility of Navajo Transit Authority services. Meetings with the NTA have been held to ensure that their policies include compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, in that federal funds are being made available for operational cost, as well as compliance with the Navajo VR Act.\

The NTA is making efforts to increase the number of buses to be equipped with wheelchair lifts. The NTA currently has 25 bus shelters that need to be installed along routes in Utah and New Mexico and plans are being made for the construction of cement slabs at each shelter for lowering wheelchair lifts.

Also, 10 bus shelters have been requested from the Arizona transportation Department for routes in Arizona.

A fourth initiative is accessibility to public buildings that provide services to NWD. In 2012, the Law Center published a report titled "Opening Doors" that discussed the barriers identified that hinder NWD to access needed disability related services at 15 buildings surveyed across the Navajo Nation. This report was provided to the Office of the President and the 24 Council delegates for their awareness of this major concern. Currently a meeting is being held with the General Service Administration in an effort to develop a corrective action plan, despite significant budget cutbacks being experienced by the GSA.

Hoskie Benally Jr.
Farmington, N.M.

Identifying with the movie "42"

My wife of 45 years and I attended the first showing of the movie "42." We were deeply moved by the many parallels between what the Robinsons experienced and what we had to endure right here at home in Flagstaff during the 1980s. Robinson's year was April 1947; ours was April 1988 - 41 years later, almost to the day.

We had been married 20 years raising three children, and I had taught and instituted biology majors at two out-of-state college-universities, and we were finally back home to enjoy the benefits of having earned the distinction of being the first Native American to earn a Ph.D. in micro/cell biology.

Flagstaff became a Philadelphia for us. Actually the NAU Biology Department with its 37 all-white all-male faculty became our Philadelphia. Please see the movie to see what I am referring to as "Philadelphia". Ugly, ugly. Racism, racism.

I was happily enjoying a tenure-track associate professorship at Fort Lewis College, in Durango, Colo., when I received a call from the NAU president's office to come home to Flagstaff, as I had lived at Indian Camp, Bellemont, (during the time Jackie was breaking into the majors and I was aware of the Negro and Mexican semi-pro baseball teams here in Flagstaff) and had played on the FHS varsity and American Legion teams. In order to move home with my family, I had to give up my tenure-track associate professorship to become a non-tenured assistant professor again. Dumb, but I was willing to do it so I could come home.

At NAU I helped institute a $2.5 million NIH program - and a $1.5 million Macy Foundation Program - both designed to facilitate the entry of Native American undergrads into science research-related majors. April 1988 I was denied my application for advancement with tenure.

As I awaited the decision, I had the fanciest lab in the department. My name was removed repeatedly from my office and lab doors - and even from my mailbox in the department mailroom. I lost my lab, office, directorship of the NIH grant, and biology assistant professorship. I was demoted to a desk in the hallway in the Department of Education. I was never given a reason for the denial of tenure. Racism at NAU in 1988.

I was at the Flagstaff hospital the other day and I noticed pictures of the FMC Board. All white, almost all male (there was one white female). Things haven't changed much in my hometown. The people of color aren't even represented on the hospital board.

Today I am happily retired as a fully tenured, full-professor emeritus in micro/cell biology, Cal State-Northridge, for the past 15 years. Cal State-Northridge is the No. 1 comprehensive University in the U.S. (number of grads go on to PhD/professional schools).

Tacheeni Scott
Flagstaff, Ariz.

Truth has enemies; lies have friends

Much of what made us Diné is gone. We don't even know what the name Diné means anymore. (It does not mean "the people").

In the past we Diné were a peaceful culture. Our principal gods were identified as Speaker of Peace or Speaker of Peace in our homes. Today they are only known as Talking God and House Gods.

Ceremonies lost to us were in part prophecies of our time. Some ceremonies told of the coming purification as in the sweat lodge setting. There would be a time when the black, blue, yellow and white fires would combine to purify Mother Earth and Father Sky. These are the same fires the Hero Twins were subjected to when they visited their father.

Where are the teachers of our relationships to the Holy People? We have little or no teachings of the four basic principles of living in this Third World.

We were never to speak above the Holy People or forget them. Never were we to indulge in sexual perversion, incest being the greatest of such evils. Never were we to digress to cannibalism of the spirit, heart (emotion), mind, and physical beings. Finally we were never to kill without knowing the four sacred reasons to kill. Killing of vegetation, insects, birds and animals had their own teachings. Such teachings are gone.

Lost to us are the sacred teachings of us being here in the Yellow or Third World. (Notice we are in a three-dimensional environment).

Everything in this world is based on the sacred number four. All learning in this yellow corn pollen path existence is preparatory for existence in the next or Fourth World.

Gone from among us are the sacred teachings of freedom to think and have ideas, liberty to plan and implement our ideas, life to be experienced in all its joys and sorrows, and hope and wisdom to have joy, happiness, confidence and peace.

We Diné can survive as a peaceful culture if we can educate ourselves of the fundamental laws that are of eternal truths. We must never embrace entities that have no doctrine, values, morals or true principles.

In the world today there is little respect for truth. Truth is regarded as a thing ever changing. Fundamental law and its truths never change. Distortions, deceptions and outright lies about the truth are the primary currency of present day society. Truth has many enemies and lies have gained too many friends.

We Diné must remain a free and peaceful culture. This is what Hasshch'ééltii (the speaker of peace) instructed us to follow. Let's never forget that truth.

Wally Brown
Page, Ariz.

Back to top ^