Learning Navajo Helps Students Connect to Their Culture
Navajo is not only a language that may be learned through classes at Arizona State University, it’s a way for students to reconnect to their culture.
“Language is one key thing. You can still be Navajo without knowing the language, but there are a lot of teachings like songs and ceremonies that can’t be sung in English. It wouldn’t make sense and it wouldn’t be the same,” said Elijah Allan, an Arizona State University senior majoring in conservation biology and geology with a minor in American Indian Studies.
Teaching classes in Navajo is also helping to revitalize what is now classified as a dying language, said Jolyana Begay, an American Indian Studies instructor who teaches beginner and intermediate Navajo classes.
“I really feel that it is my duty, my role as a speaker of the language to ensure its existence and teach to our future generations. It makes me happy that students take a very strong interest in the language,” Begay said.
Freshman Cora Tso decided to grow closer to her culture by taking Navajo classes. She would like to see more Navajo youth embrace their language and learn how it relates to the traditional way of life. Tso, who grew up in Page, Arizona came to the realization of what it meant to master the language after learning about the history of the Navajo people and what her ancestors and grandparents have experienced.
“Young people don’t realize that their culture and their language are dying. I learned about the importance of clans, traditions and customs growing up. I knew it was important,” Tso said. “I feel it’s a personal duty to myself and to my future children to keep the language going so they can know the importance of what it is to be Navajo.”
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