Canku Ota - A Newsletter Celebrating Native America
October 7, 2000 - Issue 20

A Modern Woman
By Nathan Tohtsoni, Staff Reporter Navajo Times

New Miss Navajo has earned bachelor's and master's degrees

WINDOW ROCK - As a Stanford University student, Karletta Chief remembers sneaking peaks at Chelsea Clinton and other famous classmates on campus.

Three days after being crowned the 2000-2001 Miss Navajo Nation, she can relate to how those people felt. Chief has noticed the leering looks and whispers as complete strangers hesitantly approached her, eager for a handshake.

Originally from Black Mesa, Ariz., Chief grew up without electricity or running water in the Bennett Freeze area. She hopes to use the upcoming year to advocate environmental issues and serve as a role model.

Chief, 24, is Todichiinii (Bitter Water Clan), born for To'ahani (Near to the Water Clan). Her maternal grandfather's clan is Klizilani (Many goats) and paternal grandfather's clan is Tachiinii (Red Streak People).

Her parents are Paul and Lillian Tallman Chief, both of Cedar Ridge, Ariz. Her maternal grandparents are Hazel Delmar Tallman of Shonto, Ariz., and the late Ben Tallman. Her paternal grandparents are Lillie Verla Chief of Black Mesa and the late Nephi Chief. She has five siblings ranging in age from 12 to 33.

Chief graduated from Page High School in 1994. She then attended Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif., where she obtained her bachelor's and master's degrees in civil and environmental engineering. She was accepted into Stanford's Environmental Engineering and Science doctoral program in the spring but decided to take time off after six consecutive years of studying.

At Stanford she taught a basic Navajo language class and freshmen calculus.

She sees those experiences as beneficial in working with young people.

"Requests are already coming in. Children are looking up to me, it really humbles me," Chief said. "I've never been in the limelight. I've always been a student keeping my head in the books. I was always that person saying, 'Wow! There's Chelsea.' Now I'm that person."

Chief received her inspiration to succeed in school from her father who did not know English when he was sent to boarding school in Carson, Nev., at the age of 12. He was named the valedictorian of his high school graduating class, she said.

He later fell into alcohol abuse but recovered when Chief was born. She has known the Christian faith all her life because of her father's influence.

"That really inspired me, he had a lot of obstacles ... but he gave me the inspiration to just do my best in school," she said. "A lot of Navajo children have that potential but they don't see an example. I want to be a role model for them to see someone who didn't have any resources growing up out there."

Hogan teachings
Chief has built her life on the "teachings of the hogan and the circle of life." She used that belief as her platform in running for the title.

The aspects of the octagon foundation begin with family and clan. It is followed by spirituality and values, culture and language, history, respecting your elders, health, education, and being a role model for the youth.

"My foundation has been established," she said. "When I have my family, it will start all over, like a cycle.

"Education is important. We can use that to get ahead," she added. "It doesn't have to be college. Any form that gives you wisdom can help you succeed in life. A lot of people say if you go to school, you lose. It becomes an ultimatum. I feel it doesn't have to be an ultimatum to go to school and use that education to help your people and still maintain your language and culture."

In obtaining her master's degree, Chief researched how uranium mining affected the water quality of the reservation. She wants to make the preservation of the environment an issue she can advocate for with her new title.

"For me, the purpose of my education was to help my family and the tribe," she said. "Growing up near the Peabody Coal Mine, I could always see the deprivation of the land. I saw my grandma's land being taken away and not being able to do anything about it.

"At Stanford, the city is really polluted. Here it's like a transformation into a new world," she added. "For us, we are so far more advanced in taking care of our land. As Navajos, our culture is tied to the land and if we don't take care of our land and don't instill that in our children, we'll be the same as those cities."

Dealing with critics
Chief ran for the title well aware of the controversy surrounding Victoria Yazzie's final month of being Miss Navajo 1999-2000. Yazzie said the title was "holding her hostage."

"I know people are going to be critical and some negative things will happen," Chief said. "For me, I don't build my goals on negative things that happened in the past. If you dwell too much on the negative, it'll bring you down. That's the only way the goals of the office can be accomplished.

"I'm employed by the Navajo Nation. I came in knowing those rules," she added. "I need to have a good working relationship with my office staff and the office of the president. I came here knowing there were rules."

Chief said Yazzie gave the four Miss Navajo contestants some advice the night of the coronation.

"The thing I remember is she said, 'Whoever is going to be chosen will represent the Navajo Nation. Keep that in mind. Always remember you're working for the Navajo people.'

"I hope I can draw on my own experiences and really do my best," added the 4-foot-10 inch princess. "In high school I joined the volleyball team and even spiked the ball a few times. I've always been small, but I think that made me work harder."

Chief hopes to design a Web page for the office of Miss Navajo Nation, which will be updated with the happenings of the office.

After her reign, she is considering pursuing her doctoral degree at the University of Arizona's hydrology program. She would eventually like to be a university professor.

Karletta Chief's Web Page



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