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Guest Column: The future of the Nation rests with its women

By Duane A. Beyal
Special to the Times

My mother, who passed on in 2010, lived a life of sacrifice.

I remember her rising first every morning in our ramshackle home in Church Rock, N.M. Soon the smell of coffee wafted into my room. In spring and summer birds tweeted and chirped in an early morning chorus. In fall and winter, dogs barked and grumbled.

Mom began cooking and the scent of bacon filled the air. I’d usually get up too and join her for a cup of coffee.

My mother had an honest face with clear brown eyes and a voice that was described by one writer as “like water.” In her youth, photographs show her with a striking resemblance to a young Elizabeth Taylor.

All her life was filled with children. There was us, her kids, three boys and two girls. Then there were the children of relatives who were unable to care for them for short or long periods of time.

She invited them all. She cooked and prepared the dinner table for up to eight kids. Her kitchen and cupboards were well stocked.

At breakfast time she divided us into teams. One group set the table, another toasted and buttered bread, another emptied the trash. One would sweep the floor.

On occasional Saturdays, she took us with her on the drive to Window Rock where she caught up on work while we played outside around the pink building and the Council Chamber.

She worked for the tribe’s Personnel Department then the Division of Social Welfare where her expression, “good grief,” became well-known.

She retired in 1997.

But hardship was a part of her life. On many mornings, on the way to work, she waited at the railroad crossing in Gallup while a train passed slowly or backed up while the clock ticked past 8 a.m. This was years before the overpasses were built.

Once when times were hard and money scarce, she gathered us at the kitchen table to tell us we would have to eat hamburger and gravy for a while. In response, we all cheered because that was one of our favorite dishes.

Her praise echoes through the years as when I drew a Christmas card that was chosen to be printed by Church Rock Elementary School. Or when I placed third in my age group at a Punt, Pass and Kick competition. And when I stood with the class of 1974 with a high school diploma in my hand.

Yet, despite her unwavering service and commitment to her children, I wonder about the many things she may have wanted to do. Like travel, go to events, meet people or go to college.

Once she said half jokingly, “What would you kids do if I got one of those houses?” She was talking about tribal housing in Window Rock.

Afterward her comment stayed in my head. Could she be missing things she could’ve done if not for us?

But her life spent with us belies that supposition. Her love touched us all and spread to our children and their children on through today.

Her life illustrates the pillars of strength, stability and perseverance. She always taught us to stand up and speak clearly when we had something to say.

Today, her offspring are grasping at today’s opportunities. Two of her grandchildren, Dana and Brooke, got their education beyond high school and now work at Tsehootsoi Medical Center and the New Mexico Department of Health, respectively.

And they are not alone. The Navajo Nation is following a trend. Across the U.S., female students outnumber males in college attendance. The March 23 Albuquerque Journal had a humorous piece about females who may be in trouble as they try to find a male to marry who is as smart as they are.

The Navajo Nation scholarship office reports that in 2011 female students received 66 percent of financial assistance as opposed to 34 percent for males. In 2013, female students received 64 percent while males received 36 percent. Where before a man who had land and property and was a good worker may have been the ideal, maybe the new ideal will be a guy with a college degree. No offense to all you guys out there, but the numbers from the scholarship office do not lie.

This indicates that the current and future strength of the Navajo people remains with the female population. Since time began, we identify with our mother’s clan. Remember the saying that when a Navajo women no longer wants a man, she places his saddle outside the door.

My mother sacrificed everything for her children. That, in a nutshell, is what makes us strong today.

Mom said that when she was born at grandpa’s settlement north of Fort Defiance, he carried her to a small hill just east of the hogan. There he blessed her in the rising sun.

That blessing lives on today in the hearts of her children and their children. And the basic truth of the female is showing across the Navajo Nation.

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