CROWNPOINT, N.M. - Three months after obtaining an Associates of Applied Science degree through Navajo Technical College's Law Advocacy program, 2010-2011 NTC "Student of the Year" Jamie Henio of Pinehill, N.M. added another accolade to his year of achievement in becoming the first NTC graduate to pass the Navajo Nation bar exam.
Henio was one of 13 people who successfully passed the Aug. 27 exam, and will be only one of three tribal advocates who will be sworn into the Navajo Nation Bar Association (NNBA) at 10 a.m. on Nov. 18 at the Navajo Nation Museum in Window Rock, Ariz. Of the 13 individuals who successfully passed the exam, seven were of American Indian decent.
"I guess you can say I busted the door open for other students," said Henio of his accomplishment. "It feels good to be a part of NTC history."
The all-day exam consisted of eight questions that were selected from the Navajo Nation Bar Association's list of 24 areas of Navajo Law.
"Our program prepares people to take the exam," stated NTC Law Advocate instructor, Joe Hibbard. "We try and teach a class that focuses on each subject area."
According to the NNBA Manager, Martha Dailey, the Navajo Nation Bar Association allows law advocates and tribally enrolled Navajos with bachelor's degrees to sit for the bar exam, so attending a four-year university with three additional years of graduate school isn't always required.
"Under the Navajo system, you can take the exam without having gone to law school," explained Hibbard, who has over thirty years of experience working for the Navajo Nation. "Once you pass, advocates can do everything a lawyer can do. The license is the same, it's just how you get there."
Henio took the long way to the Navajo Nation bar examination after he spent thirteen years working in the housing business and another seven years as a law enforcement officer before attending NTC. It was while he was working that Henio noticed that the prosecutor position in his community had been vacant for years. Henio's life-long dream had been to practice law in the Navajo Nation courts, so he decided to take action.
"[The prosecutor position] is a key position in the community where you can help the people," reminisced Henio, who is also working to become a certified Navajo interpreter in both the state and federal courts. "I wanted to be a part of the puzzle to make the Ramah - Navajo community a better place to live."
In the fall 2008, Henio decided to enroll back in school, but was faced with a financial obstacle in finding a way to pay for college expenses. Because of his work history and past income, Henio was ineligible for the Federal Pell Grant Program and several other financial aid programs. With lack of financial assistance, larger four-year institutions were out of the question for Henio, and so he enrolled at Navajo Tech.
"It was close to home and very affordable," Henio said of Navajo Technical College. "Students are very lucky to have a resource like that on the Navajo Nation."
At Navajo Tech, Henio took full advantage of the college's resources earning scholarships with the American Indian College Fund and a part-time job at the school's residential program to help pay for tuition and housing. Henio also took advantage of the college's student services, participating in Student Senate; National Technical Honor Society; AIHEC, where he took first place in the speech competition at the AIHEC national conference; and SkillsUSA, where he won a national silver medal in the prepared speech category at a national competition in Kansas City, Mo. this past June.
While Henio was heavily involved in student activities around campus, it was his attitude and commitment to his education that really took notice at the school.
"Jamie was a really dedicated student, and I'm not surprised he passed the bar exam," said Hibbard of Henio. "He worked hard and brought a unique background of experiences to his studies and the classroom."
Henio is currently working as an Administrative Service Officer at the Office of Navajo Government Development under the Legislative Branch, but once he becomes a member through the NNBA, he expects to work in a legal capacity for his office, and eventually one day assuming the prosecutor position in his hometown in Pinehill.
While Henio is well on his way to achieving his dream of practicing law in Navajo courts, he credits the school that got him there as a big factor to his success.
"During the NN bar exam review, I told people that I graduated from Navajo Technical College," stated Henio with a proud smile. "NTC bends over backwards for its students to succeed, and I'm proud to be part of such a great institution."
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