Academic journal article Taboo

A Dine (Navajo) Perspective on Self-Determination: An Exposition of an Egalitarian Place

Academic journal article Taboo

A Dine (Navajo) Perspective on Self-Determination: An Exposition of an Egalitarian Place

Article excerpt

On a sunny July morning, in 2000, high in the plateau country of the Ramah Navajo with pinon trees surrounding us, I sat next to an old man, who had just finished checking the rusty barbed wire and aging wooden fence posts of his small corn field. Even in his eighties the old man, hammer and nails in hand, still seemed very capable. A cool brisk breeze blew now and then and kept us cool from the hot sun. We sat on the ground for hours while he related, in the Navajo language, stories about his childhood, Hweeldi, and life in his community. With his gnarled finger, he pointed toward the east at Tsoodzil, the sacred mountain, and stated his gratitude for living in the shadow of this mountain. The old man finished his stories by stating "Bilagaana, doo ts'i'it'eeda" [White people are treacherous, unpredictable, and powerful.] He warned that even today we, Dine (Navajo), need to be careful in working with them. With that shared wisdom, being careful of what is presented, I begin my story of the Ramah Navajo People, Tl'oh chini Dine'e.

All for the benefit of Western science research continues in indigenous communities. The Dine (Navajo) believe (and rightly so) that they do not have the privileged decision whether or not to be "put under the microscope." They, however, do have the power to decide what can and should be divulged. Responsibility in research of indigenous scholars to their own cultures and simultaneously toward Western academia becomes a schizophrenic undertaking in order to be published. The work of indigenous scholars is problematic but necessary because "Representation of indigenous peoples by indigenous people is about countering the dominant society's image of indigenous peoples, their lifestyles and belief systems "(Smith, L., 1999, p. 151). Correcting the misrepresentations about indigenous people is a monumental task.

Scholars have been reexamining theoretical constructs of research conducted in indigenous communities (Canella & Manuelito, 2006, in press; Grande, 2205; Mutua & Swadener, 2003, Smith, 1999). In the past, theory and its development based on perspectives from the Western worldview were assumed to be definitive. However, indigenous scholars, often as insiders doing research in their own communities, have informed and continue to inform academia about the incongruent applications of Western theory to life in indigenous communities as well as the unethical representations of indigenous communities. Non-Native researchers who have worked among the Dine (Navajo) "sometimes comment on a certain 'fuzzy' quality about the [Dine (Navajo)] culture" (Aberle, 1963 cited in Witherspoon, 1975, p.x). Comments such as the previous one continue to be made and reflect the biased perspectives of non-native researchers. Methodology in theory development is thus an important aspect of research that requires reexamination when research is conducted in indigenous communities such as the Dine (Navajo) community.

To understand the Dine (Navajo) people and their experiences, research methods must first and foremost address the Navajo worldview. The importance of identifying worldview in indigenous research begins with the basic question: What is the point of reference for the interpretation of data? Duran and Duran state that even when academicians pretend to study cultures different from their own, most dare not ask this question (1995, p. 25). Worldview of any culture and society is explicated through epistemological principles which frame the way one sees the world. Dine (Navajo) worldview is explicated through epistemology that has been rejected and debased by the dominant society since contact centuries ago. However, enduring powerful Dine (Navajo) worldview persists in contemporary Dine (Navajo) society and continues to frame the world for its people and children who daily are conflicted by the demands of American schooling and the Euro-western worldview. One area in which Dine (Navajo) world view has been ignored is in the construction of the concept of "self-determination. …

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