Navajo graduate earns dual bachelor's degree

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. - When Rechanda Lee, Navajo, first entered the University of New Mexico - Albuquerque, she knew her major would be anthropology, but it wasn't until she took a course in Native American Studies that she realized her passion.

From the course, Lee discovered that she had a profound interest in learning more about other American Indian tribes and cultures. Eventually, she declared it as a dual major: and on May 12, Lee, 22, officially accomplished her goals. She received her bachelor's degree in both anthropology and Native American Studies.

Lee's interest in anthropology and paleontology was sparked long before she embarked on her studies at UNM. She attributes her early curiosity to her father and late grandmother.

''When I was around 10 or so, my grandmother would take me for walks in the mountains near our home. She would point out the different dinosaur bones to me that were laying around there. She didn't have an education, and I don't know how she knew, but she sure knew about bones,'' Lee said. ''In a way, I was raised knowing about dinosaurs and past civilizations because my dad would also take me to look at various archaeological sites in those mountains. He knew his way around there pretty well.''

Born in Cuba, N.M., Lee was raised in a small community on the Navajo reservation in Lybrook. She is the eldest of six and the first to graduate from college. She has no doubt, however, that her brothers and sisters will follow in her footsteps because of her parents' strong support.

''My parents are very supportive of higher education. They always pushed me to go further and to better myself,'' she said.

It was that support and encouragement that helped Lee make some ambitious moves in her life. In the summer of 2005, she applied for an opportunity to join an Archaeological Field School team funded to excavate various sites in Peru. She plans to visit Peru again someday.

''I loved Peru. The people were nice and a lot of them even thought I was a local. We stayed primarily in the desert region, but next time I want to visit the northern region where it is more tropical and just experience some of the culture there.''

Lee also completed an internship in the summer of 2004 at the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington just before its opening to the public in September of that year. Native American Studies is important to Lee as she tries to blend her two fields of study in her work.

''There aren't too many Native American anthropologists out there, but the interest has grown a lot over the years. When I observe and do my cultural items work, I want to be able to give a different perspective on things - a Native American perspective.''

Lee said she is ''community-oriented.'' She starts work in July with the Southwest Youth Soccer Services so she can help start a soccer program for the youth in her Native community in Lybrook. With the high rate of diabetes there, she believes the program will keep the kids active and get plenty of exercise.

But Lee hasn't closed the school books for good yet. In a year she plans to enter graduate school and get her master's in anthropology. She is looking at either Arizona State University in Phoenix or Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff.