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.
a maintenance worker said it would be good if they learned about
the Navajos real history at the Bureau of Indian Affairs school
during their visit.
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 schools nearly century-old apple orchard
during their 45-day stay. Monday, today and Wednesday are orientation
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.
volunteers, who forgot to buy groceries on their way in from Denver,
seemed at home with their new surroundings Monday.
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
always been interested in Native American culture the spirituality
of it, McCleary said. She is the teams leader.
volunteer Cecilia Gladish, 18, of Jacksonville, Fla., added, I
just really want to learn about the culture. Ive been around
the Cherokee Nation on their reservation in North Carolina.
Loretta Wheeler wrote an AmeriCorps grant to have four separate
volunteer teams come to the school through Nov. 3.
finally here, Wheeler said about the first team. Weve
been so excited.
program is not costing the school anything, Bitsilly said.
free. The only thing we do is provide housing. Well give them
lunch. They have their own budget for food, she said.
volunteers will be working at a school with a lot of history.
Belone, 51, a maintenance worker, remembers attending the school
in the late 1950s and early 1960s just before the current campus
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.
can still remember the smell of the popcorn, Belone said,
looking at the building, now boarded up with peeling white paint.
at that time, all they had were cowboy and Indian movies
Roy Rogers, John Wayne, he said, adding they always cheered
for the cowboys.
pupils all Navajo would later play cowboys and Indians
on the playground.
of the time everybody wants to be the winner the cowboy.
teachers all Anglos and a few blacks felt the same
and the other pupils were punished if they spoke Navajo in the classroom.
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.
Franklin, who went to the school and later retired as a teacher
there, added, If you talked back you would get it. Theyd
use a whip, a hose, a belt. They were all military people who started
this school. Thats how it was.
U.S. governments philosophy at the school has changed.
now the tribe wants to reteach tradition and culture, Belone
said. Now theyre trying to turn it back around. We need
to teach our children to speak their own language.
blames his education in the BIA system years ago for his children
not being able to speak Navajo today.
think it would be good for them (the AmeriCorps volunteers) to see
what kind of history this place had, he added.
the school has Navajo language and culture classes.
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.
grew corn, squash, cabbage, carrots and potatoes as well as apples
and peaches from the orchard. Food was stored in the basement after
school also had a reservoir now the Navajo Nations
fish hatchery to irrigate the crops.
self-sufficiency is all gone.
we have to go to the supermarket, Franklin said.
school currently has 215 pupils from prekindergarten to eighth grade.
The schools dormitories house 35 of them. They serve Navajo
children on the reservation areas from Toadlena and Sanostee to
Sheep Springs and Newcomb.
school, in New Mexico, sits on the eastern slope of the snow-tipped
Chuska Mountains which straddles the New Mexico-Arizona border.