Graduating in the Navajo Way

Graduating in the Navajo Way

October 12, 2019 2 By Stanley Isaacs


[singing and drumming] We want to give our students many opportunities for them to select what they want to do, and we want to be able to promote them in being successful, to pride themselves on finding their inner spiritual person, and knowing that we’re in the center
of the four sacred mountains, but as a Navajos, if we travel beyond that, we’re still protected by the almighty power. To be able to go to school at a university status on the reservation is so awesome. And to be a part of that, I’m really proud of that. The university is right nearby too. The Navajo Nation is right here at our doorstep. There’s a lot of people,
some students that are graduating with the cultural and leadership in the Navajo way, which is real nice. We integrate Diné philosophy here on campus, and a part of Diné philosophy is to learn to go about and become independent. That’s the traditional goal. I’m not done yet, really. Myself, my brother Jason right there, and another one of our classmates, Lance, right here, we actually got the associate’s program going too. That’s what I love about — because it’s really still a young school, and if you have ideas to make it better, they’re open to it. So I want to leave the school with something for the next generation to keep building on. I’ve always been involved with the
tribal college and university movement. I came here because I believe that Native American students are vital to the global experience. We have to compete. We need to be able to know the dominant society’s languages, court systems, education systems, political systems, but we don’t have to be conquered by them. It’s a building that’s typical in the old days and in the culture itself. There were homes that people lived in, these circular homes. Homes were very much a place of teaching too. August of 2013 we had the World Indigenous Nations Higher Education Consortium meeting in here, People came from Australia, from New Zealand, from Hawaii, from Norway, Canada, I think a couple of countries from South America too, to be part of that. My name is Yvonne Platero, and I am originally from Thoreau, New Mexico, and I’ve been coming to school here for four years in the law advocate program. I’m the first — excuse me — first one in my family to get a degree, so I’m very proud that my parents are here to actually experience this, and I hope to come back in the fall to get my bachelor’s degree in the law program even though it’s not implemented yet, but we’re going to push those instructors. You’ll see in beginning, in the prelude, normally “Pomp and Circumstance” is played, here we have a medicine man who sings the prelude. He sings the traditional songs to bless the students as they go, and we all walk following him, and either Miss NTU or another female carries the Navajo medicine bundle in a basket. Our president carries the prayer sticks. We follow the medicine man all the way in there. [ceremonial language] Navajo Technical University graduation. [National Anthem in Diné language] Here at Navajo Tech, what we’re focusing on is getting your degree, you know, because that’s what my grandfather, Chief Manuelito, that’s what he said. “Go, my grandchildren.” “Go and climb that educational ladder.” “Go and get something for yourself.” And that’s something my grandmother’s always said. “I’m not gonna be here for you forever…” “so you have to be able to learn these things” “and grasp what you can while it’s there for you.” [ceremonial language] Really pushing this institution to be what we call a student-first institution, we need to treat our students like customers. Probably have high achieving students, like when they come to your office, get off the chair and stand up, and ask them, “What can I do for you?” I know one comes in from the middle of Arizona every morning. He gets up like at 4 in the morning, gets on the road, and he hitchhikes at 5, and he’s here before class starts. That’s more than dedication. That’s a commitment. I’m what they call “the white Native American,” which — I didn’t know how to butcher, I don’t know how to speak the language, but within this year I came to realize how important it is to know my culture, to utilize my clan, to speak the language. I’m succeeding, and I know the students around here, we start teasing each other clan-wise. “Hey, you’re my brother, you’re my sister,
you’re my mom.” And that’s really good, but here at the school they’re forcing us to do it in a nice way. We have teachers and they ask us, “What’s your clan?” “Oh, you’re my grandma! And you’re my cousin…” You know, and so forth down the road. I’m looking at using online, but I said they have to have access to computers and Wi-Fi of some place. We have students with all kinds of issues like that, they live on dirt roads and it’s muddy, and cars that wouldn’t start in the wintertime, or they don’t have decent tires on them. They come from various backgrounds like that, so you have to really treat the students as individuals rather than as a group. The teaching standards I brought with me from Indiana, the bars are up here, and then most of the classes are down here. I always tell the students, “You can do much better than this.” I say, “You can aim much higher.” But I say, “I cannot lower that…” “because when you’re at this level…” “you’ll make it anywhere.” [cheering] There’s something magical about this school. We’re going to do something brilliant. So we’re right there, especially the law program. I think as Native Americans, we come from compassion. We come from looking at a situation that there’s two victims in every story, and we want to look at how can we help both of them. How can we fix this as a whole? Looking at the whole universe? I teach about equality and equity. I said we really know how to spell it by now, but we still haven’t really experienced it yet. I show them a lot of films from other countries. I think some of the struggles like in Palestine, the Ferguson thing in Missouri, and all the turmoil happening in South America, there’s a huge comparison of Native people’s struggle with the United States. Students here are too busy living, too busy surviving on the reservation. They don’t have access to look at those, really something they should be aware of. So here I provide that space for them. Palestine is very much where we were as Native people a few years back. The songs that we’re saying today, for the success and the future, the spirituality. When you have that holisticness, when you’re brought up from a traditional fireplace, when you know your language and you’re connected to that spirituality of yours. Those songs that we heard today, my mother’s father — his name is Eugene Dennison. He was also medicine man. So when I was growing up, and when we were herding sheep or out with the cattle, or it was raining, he sang those songs for me. And so when I travel to places like Paris, France, or when I worked in Tunisia, those songs went with me. That’s why I know that every single one of us is capable of leaving out of the direction of the four sacred mountains, because we will always be protected. [cheering]