Navajo Nation Council Delegates promote cultural knowledge at Navajo Head Start Conference

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Health, Education, and Human Services Standing Committee Chair Delegate Vince James (Jeddito, Cornfields, Ganado, Kinlichee, Steamboat) and Delegate Dr. Andy Nez (Crystal, Fort Defiance, Red Lake, Sawmill) joined Navajo Head Start (NHS) at their annual conference held in Albuquerque on Aug. 7.

This year’s theme was Áłchini baa a’hééhwiindzinghoh baa hwózhǫ́ǫ́ goh bee na’nityin, “Bringing in a new harmony to the joys of teaching young children.”

The conference’s objective was for NHS staff to engage and reconnect with Diné culture and language teachings. Presenters discussed the importance of Diné teachings in early childhood education which is critical in planting the seeds of growth for future Diné.

Of the five national Head Start super grantees, NHS is the sole American Indian super grantee designation in the United States. The NHS program provides comprehensive early childhood education and cultural services to Diné children.

Some NHS facilities have structures that are severely dilapidated and there is a great need for safe and clean learning environments for children and families. NHS has plans to construct a multi-generational learning center that will join a foster grandparent program with a Navajo aging program, in which elders will share their knowledge with NHS children.

During the conference, there was discussion encouraging teachers to seek Navajo language certification (or multilingual/bilingual certification) and learn alongside students to help families develop their Navajo language base.

Nez presented an interactive session on the importance of the Diné language. Using visuals, he projected various phrases that he asked attendees to translate into Diné Bizaad. He used this exercise to show the variances of regional dialect.

“These variances are what make Diné Bizaad unique,” he said.

Nez earned a bachelor of arts in Native American studies with a minor in Navajo language and linguistics. He has a Master of Science in Education with a focus on curriculum. Nez also has a Doctorate in Educational Leadership and Organization Development.

James, a former Navajo Head Start teacher, spoke about the importance that NHS has in instilling the value of the Diné language and culture.

“Every moment is an opportunity to pass on knowledge. Every Diné has an instrumental role in the formulative years of a Diné child,” he said. “Every staff member plays a critical role in the development of our Diné youth.”

James stated that traditional teachings begin when a child is conceived and that speaking Diné to the child while in the womb is critical. He explained the meanings of Diné traditions that have been performed for hundreds of years.

“As Diné, we face the potential of losing our way of life and traditions to western ways. Ceremonies, songs, dances and language are not practiced as they were years ago,” James said.

Lack of housing and jobs on the Nation forces youth to seek life in urban cities which contributes to being away from their homeland and traditional teachings, James said.

Information provided by the Navajo Nation Council.

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