A variety of successful Heritage Language programs in the San Juan School District
by Brenda Whitehorse,
San Juan School District
Heritage Language Director
The San Juan School District Heritage Language Department has many things to celebrate this year!
It was truly an amazing experience to celebrate our 30th Annual Heritage Language Conference in September.
The San Juan School District has had success in hosting the Heritage Language Conference now for 30 years.
We had well-renowned presenters such as Conner Chee, a Navajo pianist, who is well known for his work in incorporating Navajo heritage into his music.
James Junes is a Navajo motivational speaker, and Jack Cantsee Jr. is a Ute Bear Dance Chief for White Mesa Community.
The Martin sisters, Tewakeedah and Dachuneeh Martin, shared their traditional Navajo singing as a celebration of our 30th annual Heritage Language conference.
In addition to this unique conference, the school district has also supported the Heritage Language Resource Center, which has produced Navajo language teaching materials and supplied them to other school districts across the Navajo Nation.
The San Juan School District Heritage Language Resource Center has been supplying many schools with Navajo language materials and resources that were developed here in San Juan by Navajo language and cultural specialists, many whom are now retired.
Clayton Long, Donald Mose, the late Jim Dandy along with many of our former Heritage Language teachers were part of this important work.
This resource center would not have been a great success without the help of San Juan School District administrators who also retired such as Toni Turk, Kent Tibbits, Donald Jack, Doug Wright, Lynnette Johnson, and Ron Nielson to name a few.
There was also a partnership with officials at Utah State University and the College of Eastern Utah, including Garth Wilson, Cleal Bradford, and Griselda Rogers with the White Mesa Education Center.
As part of this celebration, it was a time to honor our Navajo language teachers who truly work diligently towards language preservation and serve as an important resource in their schools for Navajo language and culture.
We have eight Navajo language teachers Rosey Jones, Nellie Tohtsonie, Mabel Martin, Elvina Jones, Leroy Bedonie, Christine Rock, Valena Cody, and Ina Miles.
These teachers play a crucial role in preserving our rich Navajo heritage, language, and culture in our schools.
We also have Toni Pelt, NYCP Outreach Liaison who is working diligently to help preserve our Ute Heritage in our district.
These individuals are to be commended for the important role and work they do on a daily basis in our schools.
Through the month of November, we celebrate the rich heritage of San Juan County and honor the ancestral lands of our tribal nations that are represented in our county, including the Navajo Nation, Ute Mountain Ute, and Paiute tribes.
We also have many blended families from many tribal nations that reside in our county.
It is important to the San Juan School District that our students who are Indigenous see themselves in the curriculum and in the school climate and culture they attend.
It is just as important that parents feel welcome and can claim our schools as their schools.
So we commend all our stakeholders, school leaders, school board members, and educators to make this a priority in our school district.