COEUR D'ALENE, Idaho - Darrell Tso is a successful educator and
administrator, now serving as American Indian minority student advisor and
instructor in American Indian Studies at North Idaho College. He grew up in
a traditional Navajo home in Tuba City, Ariz. and gives credit to the
traditional heritage and religious beliefs for his successes today.
Tso's mother was of the Wandering People clan and his father's clan was the
Reed People. He was raised with the traditional language and was heavily
involved with cultural activities and ceremonies and was encouraged to have
a traditional hair tie with long hair, a style he still wears.
"One of the biggest things that was emphasized for me was the language,
recognizing that our Dine language was a unique gift. That alone can be
used as a tool. The language itself is a guidance, a planner. It's
knowledge itself. While you're using your traditional language, it's going
to help you make important decisions - how you approach things for
yourself, for your family and your community. The language addresses all
these issues. Knowing it's a sacred language and how to use it helps
influence people and helps in planning for yourself and others."
Tso also spoke of how the language helps you to recognize the sacredness of
the land and thus the need to protect it which then leads to a way of life.
"A lot of people say it's a belief or a religion. It's a sacred moment and
a sacred process of living you do each day. You learn about ceremonies and
within the ceremonies you learn to make offerings. Then as you approach
life you begin to see things differently, as sacred things. I think that
has a huge impact on how you. can think about the future."
He used examples of forest management, once you see them from a sacred
viewpoint, to protect the habitat from harmful activities. He spoke of a
change in prospective of harvesting game animals for food and to do it in
the correct way to avoid serious issues that might otherwise arise. "The
heritage, the knowledge, and the way of life help us make critical
decision. The language allows us to utilize that."
Tso also spoke of the elders, "People who have experienced life, who know
these things. Those people are very important but there's very few of them
left that have that knowledge."
Tso began college at Mount Sac Community College in California, then went
to Mercer Community College in New Jersey before finishing at Utah State
with a degree in Landscape Architecture and Environmental Planning. He then
received a master's degree in Regional Planning from Eastern Washington
University. He admits to struggling at first after being separated from the
traditions of his youth. Perhaps the change came when he realized he not
only attended college to get something but that he also had something to
give. "I also used my traditional knowledge to help understand concepts and
solve problems and eventually finish studies. Cultural knowledge is a
continual learning that continues into old age."
The traditional, cultural ways still play a major role in his life. "In our
culture we have a story where we emerge from the earth. They were given the
gift of the sweat lodge. Here people got together and they discussed and
made plans on how things should be done and should be carried out - about
how nature functions. All these things were discussed and put in place with
the holy one. If I need to make some serious decisions, that's where I need
to go. I need to use the sweat to make important decisions. The unique
thing is we're not making the decision as an earth person but you have the
holy people involved in the decision."
Tso also mentioned the social problems existing today including alcohol
abuse, drug use, unemployment and single parent homes "They are symptoms of
a greater issue and that's the deculturization of our people. To address
these issues we have to come back to our basic cultural values. That's
retapping into our language, our way of life and making a connection to the
land. I heavily encourage that in any Indian community. If we make plans
for our people and our family we should try to do it with the traditional
knowledge ... something that's been in place for thousands of years. There
are answers for everything within the songs, within the prayers. It's