On the opening evening of the 2017 AIHEC Student Conference in Rapid City, students from an array of TCUs entertained conference goers with the spoken word at the annual poetry slam. Watch the video →
Changed My Perspective
Being Navajo was just my ethnicity, nothing more, until I had finished a semester at Diné College. I knew some words of the language, my clans, the Navajo wedding basket, weaving, and traditional attire, but I did not know the significant meanings or teachings behind them. It was the classes I took that changed my perspective on who I was, who I am, and who I will be in the future.
The first class was “Foundations of Navajo Culture,” taught by Wilson Aronilth Jr. There was much course content on the Navajo culture, people, language, traditions, and so forth. There was so much to grasp and only so much I could note down as he lectured. The other course I am glad that I had chosen was “Freshman English,” taught by LaFrenda Frank. This class opened my eyes and ears to what is going on with our people’s daily struggle and the structure of the Navajo Nation government. The new knowledge I learned at Diné College has made an impact in areas of my life concerning family, myself, and friends.
Everything Aronilth lectured about has made its way into my life, especially in regards to family. Families within the reservation have issues, which I have witnessed and experienced. Alcohol issues and domestic violence have been part of my family for years, beginning with my father. Now my brothers are catching onto that habit. Aronilth puts the concept of Sa’ah Naaghai Bik’eh Hozhoo into the Navajo way of living, explaining that it is “our essence and existence of life. It is our spirit, soul, mind, and body.” This way, alcohol, drugs, bad attitudes and behavior are not part of the Diné way of life and how we carry ourselves. He states that bad behavior and alcohol abuse are “negative beings and monsters.” I completely agree; it is something I experienced which makes me not want to go home on weekends. I do consider bad behavior and alcoholism to be negative beings and monsters. They have influenced me to learn as much as I can about the Navajo teachings so I can teach others about them and that they are not the way of our people.
Thinking of the past scared me. In the book, Diné Perspectives: Revitalizing and Reclaiming Navajo Thought, edited by Lloyd L. Lee, Larry Emerson says, “Whole sets of unresolved negative beliefs and behaviors (of oneself and one’s family and people) can be transferred from one generation to the next.” Bad or negative behaviors that occur within a family can be shifted from one person to another. After learning about monsters of the world today and bringing forth what Emerson has stated, I knew I needed to resolve this issue.
I am not the most ideal person; the choices I made led me to where I am today. I deal with certain issues as I better myself. Continuing college with the mindset that I will receive my A.A. degree in the social and behavioral sciences, waking up at six o’clock, running, working out, getting in touch with my cultural background and language, keeping positive behavior, and, most importantly, being happy before I get involved with anyone are my acts of bettering myself. This is another teaching that Aronilth spoke about in class—bettering and working on yourself before settling down. I have a niece who I have grown so close to, she is my baby, everything I am doing is for her. She is another motivation for me. Bettering yourself falls hand-in-hand with bettering others. Now this brings me to the final point—friends and community.
I have been telling two friends of what I learned so far being here one semester, and I am so glad that they chose to come to Diné College. I knew the Navajo culture and language was fading, but it did not become a reality until now. There are some classes taught by specific instructors that changed my perspective on life, those are the classes that I recommended to Kameron and Owen. LaFrenda Frank, an English instructor, spoke about the topic of rhetorical sovereignty and acts of assimilation on our people. Recommending, with a bit of force, that Kameron and Owen come to Diné College and take certain classes taught by certain instructors was my way of decolonizing this generation, beginning with friends. Although it is not much, at least it is something. I hope they will soon see from my perspective and join in spreading the knowledge gained here at Diné College to those around them.
History is important because it holds experiences you can learn and benefit from. In the book, Diné: A History of the Navajos, Peter Iverson says, “Each generation knows uncertainty and experiences challenge, yet each realizes it must do its part to make sure that the Diné continue—that past promises are remembered, past events are commemorated, past sacrifices are recalled, past hopes are realized, and new imagination and inspiration are encouraged.” This quote validates my statement that the knowledge learned here helped me to understand past experiences and remember them as I strive and continue as a Diné.
Since attending Diné College, I have gotten a much more in-depth understanding of who I am as a Diné in this society. Aronilth taught me to respect and value the past and put it in my every day routine. Frank taught me that the past is beneficial to the future, depending on how you portray it. The knowledge I learned at Diné College has made an impact in areas of my life—past, present, and future—pertaining to family, myself, and friends, hand-in-hand with the Native community.
Kayla Mae Hanks is Naakai Dine’e (Mexican Clan), To’ahani (Near the Water), Deeshchii’nii (Red Streak People), and Kinyaa’aanii (Towering House) clans. A student at Diné College in Tsaile, she is majoring in social and behavioral science and hopes to become a social worker in the Navajo Nation.