Canku Ota Logo

Canku Ota

Canku Ota Logo

(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


March 6, 2004 - Issue 108


pictograph divider


AmeriCorps Volunteers Work at BIA School

by Jim Snyder/The Daily Times
credits: painting by Ray Swanson

"Snowball" painting by Ray SwansonTOADLENA — Nine AmeriCorps volunteers joined Miss Navajo Nation Marla Billey and Navajo pupils in a traditional Diné skip dance Monday at the Tohaali Community School gymnasium in Toadlena. The college-age students from across the nation had no inhibition in being open to experiencing Navajo culture their first day ever on the Navajo reservation.

However, a maintenance worker said it would be good if they learned about the Navajo’s real history at the Bureau of Indian Affairs school during their visit.

The national civilian community corps volunteers, all ages 18 to 24, can look forward to chopping wood, shearing sheep, being in a sweat lodge ceremony, going to a chapter meeting, tutoring in the classrooms and cleaning up the school’s nearly century-old apple orchard during their 45-day stay. Monday, today and Wednesday are orientation days.

“One of the greatest benefits will be the cultural exchange,” Principal Delores Bitsilly said, adding, “I was surprised with the caliber of the kids and their spirit of volunteerism.”

The volunteers, who forgot to buy groceries on their way in from Denver, seemed at home with their new surroundings Monday.

“I was a corps member last year. It was an amazing year for me. ... I loved it so much I came back (into the program),” said Jamie McCleary, 24, of Oswego, N.Y. McCleary graduated with a bachelor of science degree in psychology in 2001 from Scranton University in Pennsylvania.

“I’ve always been interested in Native American culture — the spirituality of it,” McCleary said. She is the team’s leader.

Fellow volunteer Cecilia Gladish, 18, of Jacksonville, Fla., added, “I just really want to learn about the culture. I’ve been around the Cherokee Nation on their reservation in North Carolina.”

Teacher Loretta Wheeler wrote an AmeriCorps grant to have four separate volunteer teams come to the school through Nov. 3.

“They’re finally here,” Wheeler said about the first team. “We’ve been so excited.”

The program is not costing the school anything, Bitsilly said.

“It’s free. The only thing we do is provide housing. We’ll give them lunch. They have their own budget for food,” she said.

The volunteers will be working at a school with a lot of history.

Jim Belone, 51, a maintenance worker, remembers attending the school in the late 1950s and early 1960s just before the current campus was built.

A large two-story wooden building built by a Vermont architect housed an auditorium and classrooms. Belone and other pupils went to the movies there every Friday night.

“I can still remember the smell of the popcorn,” Belone said, looking at the building, now boarded up with peeling white paint.

“Back at that time, all they had were cowboy and Indian movies — Roy Rogers, John Wayne,” he said, adding they always cheered for the cowboys.

The pupils — all Navajo — would later play cowboys and Indians on the playground.

“Most of the time everybody wants to be the winner — the cowboy.”

The teachers — all Anglos and a few blacks — felt the same way.

Belone and the other pupils were punished if they spoke Navajo in the classroom.

“When we were all out playing we were all speaking Navajo. But in the classroom nobody wanted to talk. You could only ask a question in English,” he said.

Pat Franklin, who went to the school and later retired as a teacher there, added, “If you talked back you would get it. They’d use a whip, a hose, a belt. They were all military people who started this school. That’s how it was.”

The U.S. government’s philosophy at the school has changed.

“Right now the tribe wants to reteach tradition and culture,” Belone said. “Now they’re trying to turn it back around. We need to teach our children to speak their own language.”

Belone blames his education in the BIA system years ago for his children not being able to speak Navajo today.

“I think it would be good for them (the AmeriCorps volunteers) to see what kind of history this place had,” he added.

Today, the school has Navajo language and culture classes.

A generation before his time the school was also self-sufficient in farming, Belone added. The school had cattle and teams of horses to work the fields.

They grew corn, squash, cabbage, carrots and potatoes as well as apples and peaches from the orchard. Food was stored in the basement after the harvest.

The school also had a reservoir — now the Navajo Nation’s fish hatchery — to irrigate the crops.

The self-sufficiency is all gone.

“Now we have to go to the supermarket,” Franklin said.

The school currently has 215 pupils from prekindergarten to eighth grade. The school’s dormitories house 35 of them. They serve Navajo children on the reservation areas from Toadlena and Sanostee to Sheep Springs and Newcomb.

The school, in New Mexico, sits on the eastern slope of the snow-tipped Chuska Mountains which straddles the New Mexico-Arizona border.

Toadlena, NM 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, 2003, 2004 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, 2003, 2004 of Paul C. Barry.

All Rights Reserved.

Site Meter
Thank You

Valid HTML 4.01!