The Navajo Nation

Office of the President

     The Navajo Nation

Office of the President

Navajo Nation President Nygren highlights team mentality to defeat opposition with Many Farms High School students

MANY FARMS, Ariz. — If Navajo politics was a basketball game, it’s never a guaranteed win.

But what is guaranteed is the chance to play for the Navajo Nation and play against poverty, land oss of language and culture, Navajo Nation President Buu Nygren told Many Farms High School students last week.

The 85 soon-to-graduate seniors leaned back their stadium seats to listen to the President tell them about the importance of thinking for the future and being on a team with a winning mindset that’s poised to win against seemingly impossible odds.

The President used the Lobos gymnasium to explain being on a team that’s ready to play against an undefeated team.

“Are you guaranteed to win? No,” he asked. “You’re guaranteed to play, you’re guaranteed to have a team, but you’re not guaranteed to win.”

He compared himself to being on a team with leadership on the Navajo Nation Council and squaring off against larger forces that may work to hold the Navajo Nation back.

An element of the opposing undefeated team, he said, could be just the daunting process that’s set up in order to get things done.

One example, he said, is acquiring a homesite lease on Navajo land that is required by the federal Department of the Interior because Navajo land is trust land – land held in “trust” by the federal government for the benefit of the Navajo Nation.

But the process to get a homesite lease can take from nine to 24 months. How quickly an application is approved depends on how soon an applicant is able to complete many steps such as hiring an archaeologist for an archeological clearance, and a surveyor to size and mark the land, and then file all proper documentation.

This process that cumbersome, and one that could defeat some applicants who give up.

Another example is increasing use and fluency of the Navajo language, he said.

The President wants his administration to find ways to preserve and perpetuate the Navajo language. One logical way to do that is to assist Navajo language school programs. Today, that’s hard because Navajo fluency has fallen.

Contemporary Navajo language proficiency at home is only around 2 percent. Navajo and English speaking is 28 percent. English-only in Navajo homes is around 72 percent. That’s a trend of decline the President wants to reverse.

“We want to make this very public,” he said. “We want education on the importance of retaining our language.”

A misperception that to do well in school, only English should be spoken at home contributes to the decline of the Navajo language.

The President wants students to know that language, especially speaking two or more languages, fuels our brains, frames our thoughts and makes complex communication possible.

Words, expressions and quirks unique to the language people speak define how they see and understand the world.

If students are monolingual, their world has limits. In an age of borderless communications and global travel, it is becoming fast becoming out of date to be limited to one language.

From birth to old age, the brain develops, adapts, learns and re-learns, even after being injured. Language is an essential component of how the brain functions throughout life. Like any muscle, the brain likes to exercise. Being fluent in two or more languages, especially a descriptive language like Navajo, is one of the best ways to keep one’s brain fit.

“So if you want to succeed not only in college but everywhere, acquire a very high proficiency in our own language and culture,” said President Nygren.

As part of his three-month tour of high schools across Arizona, New Mexico and Utah, President Nygren has met with student councils, school administrators, counselors, and the Navajo Nation Office of Financial Assistance and Scholarships to improve student access to resources.