January 25, 2022
On the heels of the fiftieth anniversary of the founding of the Department of Diné Education, A History of Navajo Nation Education explains how the current Navajo educational system is a complex terrain of power relationships, competing agendas, and jurisdictional battles influenced by colonial pressures and tribal resistance. In providing the historical roots to today’s challenges, Wendy Shelly Greyeyes clears the path and provides a go-to reference to move discussions forward. Today, Dr. Greyeyes answers our questions.
What inspired you to work on this book?
I worked for the Navajo Nation and one of the biggest challenges of my job was explaining what type of educational system is in place. There are many systems operating on the Navajo Nation and it gets confusing for families and for tribal leaders. I felt that a book was necessary to help clarify the history of education and how it has grown. I’ve also been fortunate to have worked with some amazing Navajo educational leaders and through much of the work, I also talk about how the Navajo Nation could unify a system that would be more meaningful for our students and community.
Why is Navajo education at a pivotal moment?
Navajo Nation has discussed the idea of unifying an educational system since the 1970s. We have been at a pivotal moment for nearly fifty years. The next step is getting the approval of the Navajo Nation council for a 638 plan that has been drafted and developed. But presently, the main driver of this movement had a lot of turnover with staffing. So it maybe a few more years before this action takes place.
What is the work that’s happening now for educational sovereignty?
Currently, Navajo Nation has been seeking a superintendent for a long time. They finally have found a leader that will drive this initiative forward, and we are looking forward to what the future holds for the Navajo Nation.
What is the lesson of this book?
I believe we should not be afraid of taking the power back from the federal government and the states that educate our children. We gave the right to educate our children with the treaty of 1868. We have the power and the authority to take it back.
What are you working on now?
I’m finishing up a co-edited book on the Martinez-Yazzie lawsuit, here in New Mexico. We have contributions from some of the great minds focused on Indian education and we hope this book comes out in 2023.
Wendy Shelly Greyeyes (Diné) is an assistant professor of Native American studies at the University of New Mexico and a former research consultant with the Department of Diné Education.