Canku Ota Logo

Canku Ota

Canku Ota Logo

(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


June 29, 2002 - Issue 64


pictograph divider


College Graduates Praise Success that Comes with Education

by Sararesa Begay The Navajo Times
Window Rock, AZ - Kester Tapaha, a native of Montezuma Creek, Utah, said his purpose in life is to reach out to Navajos to let them know they can achieve.

Recently Tapaha, 34, earned his master's degree in rehabilitation counseling from San Diego University and his goal is to complete his credentials in school counseling.

Tapaha, a Fort Lewis College and 1988 Whitehorse High School graduate, wants to continue to challenge himself despite having a visual impairment and having to use crutches and wheelchair to get around. He has set his sights on pursuing another master's degree, and eventually to complete his doctorate.

"I was always stubborn, I was always doing what I wanted," Tapaha said with a laugh. "A lot of people didn't believe in me ... I'm the unstoppable."

Trying to prove it to himself was another driving force that motivated Tapaha to achieve in school.

His younger sister, Aminta Tapaha-Anderson, followed in her big brother's footsteps, and earned her undergraduate degree in computer-aided drafting and computer-aided manufacturing engineering from Southern Utah State University in Cedar City, Utah.

Tapaha, along with his sister and other recent Navajo college graduates and doctorates, were honored by the Navajo Nation Division of Diné Education Tuesday at the Education Center.

"This day will bring together those who have aspired to obtain a degree," said Merlee Arviso, executive director of the Division of Diné Education.

Over 50 Navajo college graduates pre-registered for the event but the attendance swelled to 300 people at the first-ever celebration.

Navajos who earned doctorate degrees were the guests of honor, according to Arviso, noting that eight attended the event.

Shiprock resident Bernadette Todacheene, who earned her educational doctorate from the Fielding Graduate Institute in Santa Barbara, Calif., said the Navajo Nation strives to provide many things to the Navajo people like food, clothing and shelter.

"But for the Navajo people to get their own food, clothing, shelter, they need an education," Todacheene said.

Todacheene, 51, said she was part of a consortium of 25 Navajos in 1998. Eleven have graduated from the program each with doctorates in education.

"We were so fortunate that the late William Tso helped us (with the
consortium) and got us a grant," Todacheene said.

Tso, who was a Shiprock council delegate and chairman of the Navajo Nation Council's Education Committee, secured the Navajo-Fielding Graduate Institute consortium grants and program, Todacheene said, noting that the participants paid a third of their education expenses and two-thirds were paid by the institute's scholarships and other resources.

A retired history teacher, Todacheene said she did her dissertation on "Navajo Voices: An Educational Perspective from a Navajo Community." She did her research in Shiprock where she interviewed Navajo school children, parents and teachers.

The dissertation findings concluded that Navajo culture and language should stay in the curriculum, Todacheene said.

"The event was so beautiful, so dynamic," Arviso said. "That's a real major accomplishment, to get your B.A. ... from the Navajo educational division, we congratulate all of them from high school, pre-school, college and beyond."

Arviso said the afternoon event included special guests such as Navajo Nation President Kelsey A. Begaye; Andy Ayze, chairman of the council's Education Committee; and Michael Lacapa, an award-winning author/illustrator/storyteller from Lakeside, Ariz.

"Sometimes all you need is a little recognition, and a thank you," Arviso said. "That takes you a long way."

One special participants of the four-hour recognition ceremony was Dr. Orville "Dr. O" McKinley, who is originally from Fort Defiance and holds four academic degrees.

A Ganado Mission School graduate, Dr. McKinley holds degrees from Arizona State University, the University of Arizona and two advanced degrees from the University of Hawaii.

Dr. McKinley was the fourth Navajo to earn his medical degree from U of A, and completed his master's of public health in mental health from the University of Hawaii in 1988.

Dr. McKinley's classmates at ASU include former state legislator Ben Hanley and former chairman and president Peterson Zah. The three "banded together" to survive, he said.

"We'd run out of food so someone would buy a bunch of pinto beans because it was cheap," Dr. McKinley said. "Then when one of us was in class, the other was cooking beans."

When the pinto beans ran out, the three ASU students "would raid the orange groves, and survive on that" until someone's check arrived.

From 1966 to 1968, Dr. McKinley joined the U.S. Army but returned to ASU to earn his undergraduate degree in zoology in 1970.

In 1977, Dr. McKinley earned his medical degree, and did an internship at Highland General Hospital in Oakland, Calif. He eventually worked for Shiprock hospital and did a residency in Minot, N.D.

He spent two years working for the Fort Totten Sioux Tribe, and noted that it was "terribly cold" in the north land.

"Then one cold day I was wearing a ski mask, and I saw a flier on a bulletin board that said, 'Earn your master's degree in public health, all expenses paid at the University of Hawaii,'" Dr. McKinley recalled.

He was on his way to Hawaii "where I love it."

Eventually, Dr. McKinley earned master's and doctorate degrees in public health from the University of Hawaii.

He said learning is a life-long process, and he continues to learn.

Dr. McKinley learned the Chinese language and can speak German.

Currently, Dr. McKinley is a consultant for the National Diabetes Prevention Center in Gallup, N.M.

Window Rock, AZ Map
Maps by Travel

pictograph divider


Home PageFront PageArchivesOur AwardsAbout Us

Kid's PageColoring BookCool LinksGuest BookEmail Us


pictograph divider

  Canku Ota is a free Newsletter celebrating Native America, its traditions and accomplishments . We do not provide subscriber or visitor names to anyone. Some articles presented in Canku Ota may contain copyright material. We have received appropriate permissions for republishing any articles. Material appearing here is distributed without profit or monetary gain to those who have expressed an interest. This is in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. section 107.  

Canku Ota is a copyright © 2000, 2001, 2002 of Vicki Lockard and Paul Barry.

Canku Ota Logo   Canku Ota Logo

The "Canku Ota - A Newsletter Celebrating Native America" web site and its design is the

Copyright © 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002 of Paul C. Barry.

All Rights Reserved.

Thank You