To create a more inclusive environment, Schoolcraft College’s Office of Equity and Engagement (OEE) is promoting multicultural awareness. In November, it dedicated its DEI newsletter to Native American Heritage Month. To bring more awareness to the challenges faced by indigenous students, the OEE recently met with Jonathan Nez, President of the Navajo Nation, and Rachel Yazzie, Alumni member and former Student Regional President of New Mexico Regions Phi Theta Kappa. The two discussed why one must listen to understand when cultivating relationships, rather than listening to respond.
It is customary among tribal members to show respect for those who came before them In the Navajo Nation. To pay homage to her ancestors, Yazzie began the conversation by introducing herself in the Navajo language.
President Nez and Yazzie then described the rich history of the Navajo, who call themselves “Dine” or “The People.” They have been living primarily in Arizona for more than 400 years, and the nation also extends into Utah and New Mexico.
An elected tribal council headed by a president governs the Navajo Nation. President Jonathan Nez began his current term on January 15, 2019. Since then, he has focused on support and advocacy for the Navajo people.
The Navajo Nation is nationally recognized for providing uranium. It is mined on tribal land and used to protect America’s borders. Most of the American military supply of uranium is direct from Navajo land.
President Nez also shared some of the challenges of the Navajo Nation, such as COVID-19. The pandemic had a major impact on the Navajo as students struggled to navigate virtual learning with a lack of internet connection. President Nez worked continuously with state and federal agencies to identify available funding and distribute it among the community. The work has not stopped as President Nez emphasized a commitment to bring tribal communities into the 21st century for access.
Yazzie explained how these efforts led to selecting President Nez for a Phi Theta Kappa Stole of Gratitude. The award recognizes his dedication to preserving the integrity of the Navajo Nation’s heritage, as well as his commitment to empowering future generations to lead, learn and grow.
Learning like this is essential to creating inclusive spaces. By better understanding various cultures, we are more mindful of different practices. President Nez helped our team understand some unique customs of the Navajo. For example, he explained the cultural difference in direct eye contact. Unlike in many western cultures, eye contact is impolite amongst Navajos.
Although traditions vary by culture, there are many commonalities among different groups. President Nez and Yazzie identified wisdom and leadership, regardless of racial origin, as key components to building strong relationships and addressing social issues.
To learn more about the Navajo Nation, visit Navajo-NSN.gov.
President Nez – Photo by Shaun Sells