Letter to the editor: Where do children learn to speak fluent Navajo?
If the Navajo Nation and its constituency are concerned about having youth speak fluent Diné, then it should be publicly taught at an early age. The Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) had discarded Native tongue, but what's it's position now? Both governments have neglected to teach Diné in schools. It is obvious because there has been no teaching of Diné to children for many generations.
Most grandparents got punished for retaining Native language. Later generations were silent on Diné educational opportunity. Diné leaders assumed parents taught it, but what happened? The disciplinary learning in language was taken away from them. Traditional education was taken from parents who had been influenced by the BIA, Mission and public schools.
Now, there is no official tutoring in Diné in formal instructive setting. Yes, leaders have passed resolutions on it but that directive ended there. For generations, BIA and state schools have not embraced the wishes of the Diné. It has been quite a few years since there was emphasis placed on implementing the Diné dialect. Within the Diné populace, only a few schools try - like Diné College and Rough Rock School. But those schools do not reach all youth entering early and primary education.
Speaking Navajo fluently - this prospect of learning Diné has been silenced by the tribal government. But regardless of this circumstance, the Nation set a policy for election of its leaders that they be fluent in speaking Navajo. Fluent, what does it really mean? The obvious question is where do youth get an opportunity to become fluent speakers.
Because Diné's leadership and federal schools have hesitated in addressing the need for learning, most Diné continue to speak in slang, instead of formal learning to achieve eloquence. Perhaps, those who learned early on at Diné College (NCC) have gained an opportunity to learn close to fluent Navajo. Even after classroom training, one has to practice to acquire ease in Diné speech.
Where is the justice in this? Is Diné Nation denying youth language proficiency and in getting scholarships because of the lack of required classes in Diné? Isn't it awkward to put youth at a disadvantage without having a basic chance in its foundation curricula or cultural studies? So Diné youth are not endowed by entitled Diné Nation benefits?
As Diné leaders, this should be a wakeup call to not treat our own in the manner of inequality. Why should Diné Nation fault their youth in not being able to speak Navajo, if it's tribal and federal trustee ignores addressing the need for early child experience in their Native speech. Few try with limited funding and least quality textbook support.
Most Diné who believe in thinking they're articulate in Diné probably are in conversational Navajo. But, in truth, hardly any speak in printed prim and proper Diné. In fact, the majority of Diné today are unfamiliar with writing or reading Diné. It seems as though it's like foreign script to not know its archetype.
Adolph June, Jr.
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