Blending Western Education and Traditional Values
Indian Country Today
Aurelia Yazzie graduated from Navajo Technical University with a Master of Arts degree in Diné Culture, Language & Leadership on December 9. She is the second student to earn the degree from NTU after Perry R. James, who received his degree in May. Both like how the program blends Western education with traditional values and thought.
“The program goes in depth about what it really means to uphold traditional values and to learn and teach from that perspective,” explained Yazzie, whose clans are Bit’ahnii born for Tsi’naajinii. “A lot of information I learned was so overwhelming, especially from the people who know these things and have lived through it. It was just a wealth of information that I never knew and it caused me to look at my life differently and the way I teach.”
Before enrolling at NTU, Yazzie worked in the education field for 20 years, 17 of them at To’haali’ Community School in Newcomb, New Mexico, and another two at Ch’ooshgai Community School in Tohatchi. She also spent five years working at various satellite sites for Diné College, where she earned her associate’s degree in Diné Studies before going on to earn a bachelor’s in Bilingual Education at Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colorado.
As an educator, Yazzie appreciated how NTU’s master’s program could appeal to people of all backgrounds and professions. “The master’s program could be looked at from every angle,” explained Yazzie, who wrote her thesis on Diné Bi Beehas’aanii Bitsi Silei: Parenting Skills Utilizing Navajo Perspective. “From my stance it was from an educational and parenting perspective whereas another student may see it from an environmental point of view or another student sees it from things that are going on within the community. It was a lot of good information.”
Yazzie explored several options before settling on NTU for an advanced degree. She felt many were too expensive or solely focused on curriculum, which after 20 years of teaching, she felt she had a solid grasp of.
“NTU wasn’t too expensive, but at the same time, I was really interested in making a contribution to the Navajo Nation with what I know,” Yazzie said. “Especially teaching Navajo children. I need to know where they’re coming from and what their values are in order to understand what these kids go through having to function in Western society while juggling the traditional ways of life.”
With her advanced degree, Yazzie plans to continue working at Ch’ooshgai Community School where she will focus more on the traditional values of her students to be a more effective instructor.
“I could’ve gotten a master’s degree from anywhere else, but it wouldn’t be as meaningful as what I learned here,” said Yazzie. “I think that’s why it’s meaningful, because it’s from a traditional sense and identifies who I am and have been all this time. Now that this knowledge is in my head I can share it with other people.”