Community finds loss of Diné language ‘scary’

Navajo Times | Ravonelle Yazzie
Artwork and a story written in Diné bizaad is posted in the halls of Tséhootsooí Diné Bi’ólta’ on Nov. 1 in Window Rock.

WINDOW ROCK

“It’s scary that these young kids don’t speak it,” Lenora Watchman, a fluent Navajo speaker and mother of five, said. Her oldest child is 11 and her youngest is seven months.

Navajo Times | Ravonelle Yazzie
A diagram of a flower is labeled in Diné bizaad and is on display at Tséhootsooí Diné Bi’ólta’ in Window Rock.

Watchman, 32, has been trying to teach her children Navajo but they haven’t been able to pick it up despite having grandparents who talk to them in Navajo daily.

“I’m sad that they won’t get to know the language like I do,” she said as she was waiting for her coffee at the Starbucks in Basha’s. “I feel like it’s my fault too.”

Watchman questions why her children haven’t learned the language.

“We always talk Navajo to each other. How come they don’t pick it up? Is it me? Or is it them that they don’t want to pick it up?” Watchman said. “I’m kind of disappointed in myself that I didn’t push it enough.”

Seeing Navajo children not being able to speak the language is “scary” to her because it means soon Navajo ceremonies will also start to disappear.

“My kids are not going to know what a (Blessingway ceremony) is. They’re not going to know what a Ndaa’ is, a Yei Bi Chei is, because all that’s going to be dead by the times these guys are my age,” Watchman said.

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She is trying to change this with her three youngest children by asking her mother to only speak Navajo to them.

“I’m trying,” Watchman said.

Chentel Begay, 19, from Ganado, Arizona, is also trying to teach her one-year-old daughter the Navajo language even though she’s not a Navajo speaker.

“I know some words and I speak them to (my daughter). She’ll say ‘aoo’ and ‘dooda,’” Begay said while holding her daughter in her lap at the Starbucks. “When people say ‘ya’at’eeh’ to her, she’ll stick out her hand and shake their hand.”

This is a collective and intergenerational effort to teach Navajo to little Aviana Stevens. Aviana’s grandparents on both sides speak the language to her. Begay is hopeful her daughter will learn the language — something that hasn’t been easy for her.

“When elders speak Navajo they do put us down because we can’t speak it,” Begay said. “It does make me feel like I’m not good enough.”


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Categories: Culture

About Author

Pauly Denetclaw

Pauly Denetclaw is Meadow People born for Towering House People. She was raised in Manuelito and Naschitti, New Mexico. She was the co-recipient of the Native American Journalist Association’s 2016 Richard LaCourse Award for Investigative Reporting. Denetclaw is currently finishing her degree in multimedia journalism from the University of New Mexico – Main. Denetclaw covers a range of topics including genetic research, education, health, social justice issues and small businesses. She loves coffee, writing and being with her family. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram. Her handle is @pdineclah