Students from Page public school grades 9 through 12 presented the Page High School Diné Winter Stories Conference to a large audience on Dec. 1 at the high school’s Cultural Arts Building.
The culturally diverse audience was treated to an unforgettable evening, the culmination of the students’ work during the fall semester. Page High School and Middle School have a strong Navajo Language and Culture program.
Dressed in traditional attire, students presented the program with the help of a large monitor screen. The students started by presenting the cultural time-scale that spans several “worlds”: The First World, Nihodilhil (Black World); the Second World, Nihodootlizh (Blue World); and the Third World, Nihaltsoh (Yellow World). We are currently in the Fourth World, Nihalgai, the Glittering or White world.
Audience members learned that the Navajo Reservation is marked by four major mountain peaks: Blanca in Colorado, Taylor in New Mexico, San Francisco in Arizona and Hesperus in Colorado. Navajo Mountain joins other landmarks in defining the Navajo Nation.
The students presented a variety of constellations that were originally thrown in the sky. As the story goes, Coyote, who took a buckskin that held objects representing the night sky, and wanting more stars in the sky, sent the contents into the sky, resulting in the sky we know today. Some of the constellations are different than the ones non-Navajos know and look different. Others – like the Milky Way (Yikáísdáhí, or that which waits the dawn), the sun (Jóhonaaʼéí ) and moon (Ooljéé’) – are celestial bodies our cultures have in common.
The students talked about the Shoe Game, a series of games that originated in a previous world, representing the conflict between such things as day and night, life and death, old age, good and evil. In each case, neither side won, and that’s why we have all of these to this day.
In the story of Changing Woman and her sons the Twin Warriors, the students explained how the Twin Warriors slayed the monsters that were preying on the Navajo and eventually learned that their father was the sun.
The students then offered a variety of traditional song and dance performances (Iich'oshi sin), each sounding different and some quite mesmerizing. Since it is not allowed to record traditional songs, the audience was asked to listen and enjoy the music. Some of the songs were the memorial, veteran, shoe game and earth/children songs. Winter songs are only allowed to be sung in the winter.
Carlos Begay, who developed the curriculum for the students at Page High School, participated from time to time in the program with his own singing voice. His students mostly led the presentation with his help, as needed.
Begay has been teaching at Page High School for several years, and this is the third year that his students have presented the Winter Stories Conference.
He has around 170 students in 9th through 12th grades. He is working with the school district to expand the Navajo language education to Page’s two elementary schools.
Currently, he and one other teacher handle Navajo language classes at the middle school and high schools. His long-term vision for the Navajo language program is to create an immersion program so students can learn the language better.
Begay said he realizes that languages are easiest learned as children and would like to see elementary school children be part of the program. For that, he will need more teachers.
For people interested in teaching Navajo, one has to start by becoming certified as a teacher by the state of Arizona. Then, one must pass the Language Proficiency Exam administered by the Navajo Nation.
Navajo language classes are offered to any student with a desire to learn the language. Begay has students from the Hopi and Havasupai tribes in his classes, as well as some “billaganna,” or non-native students. He also teaches Navajo at Coconino Community College. Classes teach not only the language, but also the culture and history.
Some of Begay’s students continue past high school with college-level classes in Navajo and minors in Navajo.
There is a Navajo Language Club at Page High School. The students are planning a trip to Window Rock next year to open the Fall Council meetings. The students are also working on a trip to visit the State Capitol in Phoenix, and the Navajo National Office in Washington, D.C., to see the original copy of the Treaty of 1868.
Begay’s said his goal with his program is to respect and maintain the integrity of the Navajo language, culture and traditions by teaching future generations.
Readers who would like to help the Navajo Language Program, as well as students, are welcome to contact the Page High School Navajo Language Club by calling Page High School.
The club and students welcome those who can help both financially and non-financially with their planned educational trips.
People can also help by supporting and understanding the culture and by being advocates for the Navajo people. Begay said he sees a lot more being accomplished when cultures understand and accept each other.