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Letters: A Diné College professor speaks out on college prez

Letters: A Diné College professor speaks out on college prez

For the past 15 years I have lived and worked on the Navajo Reservation. Initially I came here right out of law school with an interest in promoting the legal rights of the Diné. Not having much of a heart for arguing and fighting I chose an alternative fork in the road and became an educator.

I worked as a licensed school counselor for four years before being recruited by Diné College. It was hard leaving my young students behind as I ventured forth into the world of higher learning, but I made them all promise me that they would study hard and go on to college, Diné College É Teaching at the college was my dream job. Because we have the best students anywhere and they taught me many things as well.

Students often took the knowledge gained in a psychology class and transformed their lives into teaching moments. A young man returned from a Middle Eastern conflict with first-hand experience of what PTSD really felt like, and not simply what it looked like in a textbook. He bravely shared his personal story of recovery, clearly explaining how both Western psychology and traditional Diné ceremonies had helped him, his family and other Iraqi vets in his support group.

While employed at Diné College I held a variety of positions. I was chair of academic standards for six years, interim vice president of Academics and Student Services in 2011-2012 — appointed by President Maggie George — chair of Social and Behavioral Sciences and a faculty member who, due to my having several advanced degrees in multiple disciplines, was often loaned out to other departments as needed. Which leads me now, in my story, to the academic year of 2013-2014 when I was once again elected to the position of president of Faculty Association.

It is mandated by the Navajo charter that faculty “concerns and opinions” be shared at the monthly Board of Regents meetings. That was my job and I take my duties seriously. Unfortunately every attempt to present to the BOR was thwarted by the BOR president Fanny Atcitty and the college President Maggie George.

When finally we were allowed to present our report on Feb. 14 — a PowerPoint which included a breakdown of the academic budget (showing financial favoritism towards George’s husband’s division) and a Faculty Accountability Survey (showing 80 percent of faculty lacked confidence in the administration) — the presentation was interrupted and silenced by the BOR president who berated the presenters and behaved towards us in a matter less than respectful or professional.

A complaint accusing Attcity and George of “creating a hostile work environment” was filed in March of 2014 and without due process as provided for by the college Personnel Policies and Procedures, the complaint was never addressed by the BOR but instead I was terminated by President George (who was not my immediate supervisor). My contract for the following year 2014-2015 was not renewed as recommended by my supervisor, and my then current contract as chair of Social and Behavioral Sciences 2013-2014 was abruptly terminated as were my summer adjunct teaching contracts.

All of this will be worked out in upcoming Office of Navajo Labor Relations hearings so I am not here to present my case but rather to let the public know that statements recently and publicly made by President George are misleading. She accuses faculty of “not following college policies” when filing their complaints, when in fact it is she who does not follow policy. She further claims that the recent petition asking for an investigation into allegations of misconduct by George is “unlawful” when in fact it is quite legal to petition, according to the Navajo Nation Bill of Rights.

For over a year and a half now, faculty and staff have attempted to gain the ear of the administration but instead have been met with brutal retaliatory actions, tactics involving intimidation, harassment and fear of job loss. And they only have to look at how I was treated to see the validity of their fears.

Why is it so hard for this administration to simply acknowledge that there are problems at the college and to then sit down in an open-hearted and inviting manner and listen, just simply listen to what others have to share?

Imagine how that might have changed the current climate at the college. Imagine how that might have benefited not only the faculty, staff and students but also the Nation who in the end are all bearing the burden of this administration’s disharmony.

My role as an educator is multi-faceted; it includes and is not limited to providing a quality curriculum, a fact based creative and enjoyable class experience and to model ethical and responsible behavior. How can I encourage my students to be the best that they can be in this life, to stand up for what they believe in, to not allow themselves to ever be abused by anyone, family or employer, without standing up myself for the faculty, staff and students of Dine’ College when I know they deserve better?

It has been an honor to serve the Diné and I plan to continue serving in whatever capacity I may be invited to.

Ky Travis
Pagosa Springs, Colo.

Promoting self-reliance

As Chinle (Central) representative on the Navajo Women’s Commission, I value this rewarding responsibility and experience of serving our Navajo Nation families. As commissioners, our mission is advocate values that promote resiliency and self-worth to build positive family environments for Diné communities.

Thank you for this opportunity to convey my thoughts about individual(s), families and communities across our great nation. Today, as Diné, we are in a complex, technical and fast moving world. As we make our decisions, we are pressured through mass medias, relatives/friend(s), parents and paternal/maternal grandparents. Often, we are confused, frustrated and not decisive of what we want as individual(s).

We should never regret and only appreciate what the Diné Treaty of 1868 brought to our footsteps. Today, we live in a diverse Diné society and must make efforts to appreciate yesterday, today and tomorrow. Although we are a complex Diné society, we are blessed with Diné cultural values, which make us unique. We, as Diné, holistically think, and plan as we interpret our environment.
Our culture encompasses our history, traditional teachings/informal education and language. As individuals (young and old), we are encouraged to rekindle our Ké. Ké is very fundamental in promoting our individual self-worth. Self-worth is how a person sees themselves. This self-worth is very dear, precious and sacred and we learn our self-worth from our parents, families, school and other settings within our environment.

Being Diné, we must remember the traditional historical teachings, which develops and strengthens our philosophical values. Our elders encourage us to utilize T’a’a’hwo’a’ji’t’e’ego to ask questions and absorb teachings/knowledge of family history, sacred teachings of the Clan/Ké system, sacred elements of life, and so forth. These teachings and knowledge develop our self-worth and help us strive to appreciate ourselves, our families, relatives and nature (environment). In turn, we challenge and strive in all efforts to respect ourselves and others, to become compassionate and to take care of ourselves and others. I strongly believe this is love for oneself, families, and relatives.

I encourage our Diné families to make time for one another and exchange family traditional teachings, family history and family philosophical values. We can and will stump out violence, suicide, homicide, and drugs/alcohol. We face challenges and must re-strengthen our knowledge and positive skills to promote consideration and thoughtfulness.
In this way, we show compassion and build a firm foundation for safe, healthy individual(s), families, relatives, neighbors and communities. We will be a healthy Diné nation. Be patient and stay determined to experience this change. I, for one, am trying and it feels like I am climbing, often crawling to see positive results. Do the best you can, remember we are a Dine’ nation.

Charlotte Begaye
Central Agency Representative
Navajo Women’s Commission
Chinle, Ariz.

Prisoners need cultural teaching

Through the constant stories I hear about fallen Navajo police officers and criminal mischief across the reservation.
The people need to understand that many young and old Navajos transitioning back to their communities are far worse than when they went to jail or prison. It’s the constant hate toward authority figures and blame they live on. Nobody wants to hear what a criminal thinks until something bad happens.

I’ve been locked up here in Tucson, in the Arizona State Prison system for four years. During my stay here in the Arizona Department of Corrections, I’ve noticed many young Navajos coming and going who don’t have any knowledge of their culture or traditions.

I try to teach these younger generations what I was taught through the walk of beauty and ké. They do listen to me as I see a change in them, but their patterns are very sketchy. I asked them where they are going when they get out and they say obvious places like Tuba City, Chinle, Ganado, Leupp, Window Rock, etc.

I did research on the ADC and with help from the local news stations here in Tucson, I noticed the numbers are getting greater every year, especially for Navajos and other Indian nations.

The spiritual identity and foundation of Navajos and other nations are deteriorating. Reclaiming our spirituality and spiritual identity are the bases for restoring dignity, Which none of these younger generations have at all, and it has been hurting me deeply.

I’ve studied moods, characteristics, and emotional aspects of our people reintegrating into society. You got to have firsthand knowledge of being incarcerated in order to understand, not just guessing.

So convince your newly elected leaders that you’re tired of the road we’ve been going, and you want to deviate from it, so we can pave the red road to re-establish a foundation for these young minds.

The prison’s way isn’t working. All they do is give them medication that they hope proves well, when all they are doing is testing their new drugs making our people worse. Then later recall the medication back due to complications.

Kee Watchman
Tucson, Ariz.
(Hometown: Window Rock, Ariz.)

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