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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


May 31, 2003 - Issue 88


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Dine Language, Culture Remain the Key to Success

by Monica Lujan/The Farmington Daily Times

Pauline and Ezekiel SanchezSHIPROCK "We spoke to our children even while they were in the womb. And since there are seven of them, we each took a separate group with us on occasion; dad with the boys, and mom with the girls, to spend time with them," Pauline and Ezekiel Sanchez told participants of the Dine Family Institute held Friday and Saturday at TseBitAi Middle School in Shiprock.

The Sanchez', who are the 2003 Family of the Year, kept the audience alternating between tears and laughter as they told stories of their childhood, their romance and the ongoing process of being parents to a houseful of children. The Sanchez' were first named as Arizona's Family of the Year and then as National Family of the Year. The couple is the first Native American family to be selected for this prestigious honor.

"We have always communicated to our children our love for them and the fact that each can achieve whatever he or she desires," Pauline Sanchez said, noting the struggles she had to overcome.

Pauline Sanchez spoke frankly about watching her Navajo father beat her mother in drunken rages. As an adult, she was able to reconcile her feelings of conflict about this situation by talking to him and realizing how alcohol had affected his abilities to be a normal father.

Ezekiel Sanchez quipped about being a "wetback," and how his parents crossed the Rio Grande into the United States when he was a small child. Despite the hardships of being immigrants and raising 16 children, Ezekiel Sanchez said his parents remained loving and caring toward each other and were never violent.

Lenora Williams and her family from Fruitland were so moved by the Sanchez' presentation that they invited them to dinner later that evening.

"We felt like we had to express back to them the love they shared with us," said Lenora Williams.

Randy Roberts, chair of the Central School District's Indian Education Committee, was also very impressed with the Sanchez' presentation

"We were so honored to hear the kinds of teachings that every family should use," Roberts said.

Navajo Nation Vice President Frank Dayish Jr. and his wife Virginia made a surprise appearance at the Friday night conference. Both the vice president and his wife reminisced about the days they were students at TseBitAi Middle School, he remembered when the school auditorium was brand new and she recalled her days of being a cheerleader.

Dayish reinforced the importance of Navajo parents' involvement in schools on the reservation and stressed the inclusion of Navajo language and culture in all schools serving Navajo students. Virginia Dayish spoke about the many struggles and sacrifices she and her husband endured as they pursued higher education. She credited strong family role models and family perseverance for getting them to where they are today.

"It was very nice to hear Mrs. Dayish speak as a mother. Both she and the vice president have assisted us with events twice this spring which is unprecedented," added Tina Deschenie, Central Schools' Director of Bilingual and Indian Education, who also organized the conference.

On the second day of the conference, a nine-student panel answered questions about their role models, their parent's role in their educational careers and their futures. The student panel was a hit with attendees as the students from Kirtland Central High, Shiprock High, and Newcomb High, mostly credited their mothers for their achievements thus far in life.

The students overwhelmingly believed the best parents tell their children they love them, listen to their children, know who their friends are and attempt to understand the very different issues the students are confronted with today, compared to what the parents might have faced in their own adolescence.

The student panel also noted some of their favorite reading included books that had to do with individuals overcoming adversity, but they also preferred magazines featuring current issues. As to future career aspirations, they talked about architecture, engineering, Native American law, music, journalism, and business. The students also agreed inclusion of Navajo language, culture, and history is an important component of their education. Some students believed that all Navajo students should have to take all the Navajo courses offered. And many students indicated that their first Navajo specific learning occurred in school when their teachers introduced the information.

"Those students who spoke Navajo fluently did so with great reverence for their family who had raised them knowing the importance of their traditional roots," Deschenie said, "All of the students spoke with refreshing candor and intelligence on each question posed to them."

Steve Darden with his Navajo teachings and encouragement to use prayer, song, and culturally based practices to be more loving and joyful drew in a large audience as well. Both Dr. Larry W. Emerson and Sylvia Jackson also reinforced the importance of family commitment to raising children who are strong in their identity as Navajo people and who aspire to do the best they can for society in general. Emerson reviewed historical oppression, which led to degeneration of culture and language among the Navajo, and all Indian people.

"This historical process was evidenced in the students' insight on their parents' apathy toward language and culture in many households," Deschenie noted.

"However, it's no surprise the students' lack of traditional teaching in the home only creates a thirst for Navajo language and culture teachings through the schools."

Starting in July, the New Mexico State Department of Education has opened a new door for public school students to study their tribal languages with funding from the state Bilingual Unit for Indigenous Language Revitalization.

Central School District's Indian Education Committee hosted the Dine Family Institute.

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