Students air their thoughts on language preservation

By Shondiin Silversmith
Navajo Times

DILKON, Ariz., Nov. 7, 2013

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(Times photos – Shondiin Silversmith)

TOP: Facilitator Leroy Morgan from White Cone, Ariz. goes over the suggestions made by his group on how to preserve the Navajo language during the Native Studies Symposium in Dilkon, Ariz.

MIDDLE: Students who are in Ms. Myrtle Curley’s Navajo Language and Culture class at Dilcon Community School were asked what the Navajo language means to them, and displayed are some of the answers during the Native Studies Symposium on Nov. 1.

BOTTOM: Students who participated in the Native Studies Symposium on Nov. 1 post their ideas and suggestions on how to moved toward a brighter future.

As a kid it would seem your biggest concern would be that math homework you forgot to do or those pesky pimples that refuse to go away.

But for 10 students at Dilcon Community School, their concern is the fact that not many kids speak the Diné language or know much about their Navajo culture.

As part of the Native Studies Symposium, held Nov. 1 at the school, 10 students voiced their concerns for the Navajo youth as part of a youth panel discussion .

The Native Studies Symposium was approached using the Nitsahakees, Nahat'a, Iina and Siihasin model of teaching. The youth panel was a part of the Nahat'a discussion for the event.

Youth panel mediator Davina Delmar said the youth panel was an important part of the symposium because it is common for youth at large events like this to be talked to rather than talked with.

"It's not something where there is a lot of room for discussion, it's more like, 'This is what you should do,'" Delmar said, adding that the panel was a way for kids to be heard.

For panel leader and student council president Maddison Benally, 11, the students who took part in the panel had one goal.

"We wanted to get our message out to the youth that we should learn to speak our language more and should be staying with our grandparents, having them teach us our language and traditions," Benally said.

Benally estimated that at least 95 percent of the Navajo population does not know how to speak their language, adding that it's a problem because Navajo is one of the largest Native American tribe.

Benally added that the reason she thinks a lot of kids don't learn their language is because they are too scared or ashamed to speak it.

So as part of this panel Benally said all the students speaking, put themselves out there in hopes of inspiring kids to speak their language because they want them to and they don't want to see the Navajo language lost.

"My language is important to me," Benally added. "I just don't want to lose the tradition and all that stuff because some kids are ashamed."

Benally said one of the suggestions made through their panel was how to help kids become interested in learning the language by having them cut down on their electronic devices so they could spend more time with their grandparents.

"We should not be ashamed of our language we should just be speaking it," Benally added before saying that she thinks Dilcon Community School should require students to dress up traditionally at least once a week and have the kids greet each other in Navajo. "We're trying to make the people who don't speak the language decrease and the people who do increase."

In addition to the language discussion, Benally said the youth panel also talked about how kids should treat each other in school, their concerns on different issues within the community like alcoholism, and student dropout rates. But they also addressed the importance of not being a bully in school.

Benally said bullying is a big issue at the school and she suggested that a way for it to be addressed is through in-school suspension rather than out-of-school suspension. That way the students have time to reflect on what they did at school.

Panel participant Simarah Salabye said she hopes their discussion at least helped kids not be ashamed of who they are as well as encouraged them not to care about the negative things people possibly say about them.

As a way for the students in Myrtle Curley's Navajo Language and Culture class to show their passion for the Diné language, they answered one question: why is the Navajo language important to you?

They did this through a large poster displayed that featured printouts quoting different students answering that question.

"It was good because some people actually got to hear what I had to say," Salabye said of her participation in the panel, adding that she noticed that the audience was "surprised that us little ones were this smart to know about that much (traditional) stuff."

"I think it's really important that the Diné symposium gave the students a voice, usually that's not the typical way of doing symposiums like this," said Andy Nez, a Diné student at the University of New Mexico, adding that this panel was a good way for the kids to express their "concerns, good and bad for the community."

"It really is an outreach for the adults to hear their perspective," Nez added.

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