The description of a rooster by a Naschitti Elementary student drew laughter from several Navajo Nation Council delegates and audience members when the student, holding a puppet Rooster, said in Navajo, “I am a rooster. I eat corn and I wake up people.”
The Council delegates quietly smiled as they watched Naschitti Elementary students perform Winter Stories in the Dine language. It was Oct. 18, 2016—day two of the Navajo Nation Council’s Fall Session in the Council Chamber in the Navajo Nation capital in Window Rock, Arizona.
“They really enjoy participating. … The kids all know their self-identify, especially their Clans, where they’re coming from, who their relatives are,” said Naschitti Elementary bilingual teacher Alverna Smith.
“They’re proud to be Dine. They feel confident about themselves,” she added.
Several Council delegates, as well as parents in the gallery, took out their cell phones to record the students singing and telling the stories in their Navajo language.
“We are very happy to be part of this day of celebration, to represent many of our Dine people across the reservation from many other states, and globally and internationally,” said Naschitti Elementary Principal Dr. Dave Goldtooth.
Navajo Nation Council Speaker LoRenzo Bates said in an interview that he had learned something from the students’ visit.
“There’s always that tendency to have that disconnect between someone like myself and the younger generation. So when you’re able to see and view and listen to them, it gives you a much better perspective on how they see things,” Speaker Bates said, adding, “They definitely reinforce that positive approach in maintaining our culture and maintaining our language.”
Before they performed, the 18 Naschitti Elementary students—in grades kindergarten through 5th—sat in reserved seating in the gallery next to the lawmakers. They listened as the Council opened the Fall Session for the day and then heard a state finance report from New Mexico State Rep. Sharon Clahchischilliage of San Juan County.
The Central Consolidated School District students were witnessing for the first time what lawmakers—from both New Mexico and the Navajo Nation—do and how they work together.
“It’s always great to have the younger generation show up and begin to get involved in the government,” Speaker Bates added during the interview just before the morning Session began.
“As they are growing up, they will have a much better understanding in the role the government plays. Who is to say one or more of them won’t be a Council delegate or president or vice president of the Navajo Nation?”
Before the students headed to lunch—courtesy of Speaker Bates and the Council at the Navajo Nation Quality Inn Restaurant—they headed to the Navajo Nation Park next to the Council Chamber.
There, they posed for photos next to a Navajo Code Talkers bronze statue, depicting a U.S. Marine Navajo Code Talker radioing a coded-message in Dine in the South Pacific during World War II. The Window Rock formation towered behind them.
“I think they did really good, really beautiful,” said Mendina Smith-Benetclaw, who has three grandchildren attending Naschitti Elementary and watched from the Council gallery. “They can talk Navajo. That’s what I teach my grandkids every morning. We sit down and talk about the school—they really like it.”
Council Delegate Leonard Tsosie, a former New Mexico state senator, visited with the students in front of the Council Chamber as they were leaving to walk to the Navajo Nation Park.
“He shook their hands. He was really proud of them,” she said.