Canku Ota


(Many Paths)


An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


March 24, 2001 - Issue 32



Keeping Culture Strong


by Sasheen Hollow Horn The Navajo Times


Over 700 students compete in Diné language arts fair


Mary Jean Nez sings solo at the Dine' Language Arts Fair. (Times photo/Paul Natonabah)

TSAILE, Ariz. (March 8) - It is an event to perpetuate the use of the Navajo language at a time when - according to the Office of Diné Culture/Language - only about half of all Navajo children start school with at least some ability to speak Navajo.

Over 700 students from 24 schools across the reservation converged on Diné College in Tsaile this week to take part in the Fifth Annual Diné Language Arts Fair.

The three-day fair began on Tuesday and is a chance for kindergarten to college-age youth to show off their linguistic skills and compare themselves to other students, organizer Terri Becenti said.

Sponsored by the college's Diné Teacher Education Program and the Center for Diné Teacher Education, the fair is part of an ongoing effort to emphasize Navajo language and culture, of which a K-8 teacher on the reservation would ideally have knowledge.
"This helps our students to appreciate the Navajo language," said Becenti, who is an academic advisor at the college. "We try to invite schools on the reservation and in the border towns. We've gotten a good response from the participants, it's a good thing."

The seven categories of competition were individual poem reading, choral (group) reading, solo and group singing, storytelling/joketelling, reader's theatre and original works.

Reader's theater consisted of choral readings of stories and poems. In the first six categories, students had the option of using either their own or someone else's poems, stories, songs and jokes, while only original poems and stories could compete in the last category.

The junior high/high school and college competitions took place on Tuesday. Wednesday saw third grade through sixth grade students performing and the competitions ends today with the kindergarten through second graders' performances.

Prizes are awarded to the top three performances in each category for each age group.

For her performance on Tuesday, Tse Ho Tso Middle School seventh grader Kanasta Stewart introduced the cradleboard. She explained what each element of the structure was, and its traditional purpose.

"In fifth grade, I was second runner up (in a contest, doing a similar presentation), and my mom encouraged me," Stewart said. "How I learned about it was my teacher talked about it and I thought it was interesting, so I stayed after school and learned about it."

Cymbre Lauing, also a seventh grader at Tse Ho Tso Middle School, sang about clans and read a poem about frybread.

"She did good," Stewart said of her friend, Lauing's, song. "She didn't mess up. But she was nervous."

"I wasn't nervous," Lauing said. "There's not a lot of people here, so...."

Lauing said that she learned of the competition when her Navajo language teacher asked her if she wanted to sing poetry.

For some students, the competition was their first time performing in public. For others, it was a different story.

Albert Nelson III Times Photo/Paul Natonabah

J.T. Willie, a sophomore at Window Rock High School, wrote and read a poem entitled "My Land." A member of WRHS Native American Club, his teacher had asked him to represent the school at the fair.

Carrying on a family business spanning three generations, Albert Nelson III, from Atsa Biyazh Community School in Shiprock, sang a two-step song for his performance.

Nelson said that he started by listening to his dad's group, the Todi Neesh Zhee Singers, sing traditional song-and-dance songs when he was six years old.

Students came from Diné College and Rock Point, Window Rock, Newcomb and Chinle high schools; Atsa Biyazh, Lukachukai, Rock Point, Wide Ruins and Ch'ooshgai community schools; Round Rock, Window Rock, Tsaile, Many Farms and Pinon elementary schools; Tse Ho Tso Primary, Intermediate and Middle schools; Jeddito Public, Ganado Intermediate, Chinle Primary, Red Rock Day School, Newcomb Mid and Rock Point Lutheran Mission.

"We'd like to thank everyone that participated in our Fifth Annual Dine Language Arts Fair, and a special thanks to our judges," Becenti said. "We look forward to seeing you again next year."

Dine Language




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