Thursday, October 6, 2016

Cultural Insight: The Navajo

Who Are the Navajo of Arizona?

My Three Days in the Navajo Nation

I recently had the extraordinary opportunity to teach a few business etiquette workshops at Dine' College in Arizona, which is deep in the heart of the Navajo Nation. Upon hearing about my workshops -- and where -- many contributed their impressions of what type of people the Navajo would be. Many also shared stories about driving on the reservation--beware the reservation police. After spending a few days with the lovely students and staff of Dine', I found most of what I heard to be untrue. Therefore, I would like to share my experiences with you.

Navajos ride skateboards and play hacky sack too!

Stereotyping is common and I found it rampant when others commented about who the Navajo are. Many had mentioned that the Navajo are an isolated people, distant, quiet, and reserved. Some suggested that they do not typically partake in most things current, like today's music, television shows, and fashion.

Yes, it is true that they honor their traditions and are very family oriented, but they are still people living in this time period. For example, while walking on Dine' campus, I found young people playing hacky sack while plugged into their iPods. Young men rode their skateboard to class and young women discussed fashion. Two students passed me as one was slowly riding a skateboard while the other was recording him using an iPad. Most likely, the video is on YouTube right now. This is not much different from most other campuses I've traversed.
When approaching students with questions, every one of them was open, helpful, and most polite. In fact, politeness is one of the most common characteristic I found of the Navajo--on and off campus.

Were my workshops a success?

One of my biggest concerns while planning a workshop is if the audience will "get me". Typically, I intersperse silly little jokes throughout my presentations. After all, if I'm not having fun, my audience probably will not enjoy it either. However, my humor is...somewhat quirky. Most appreciate it, but some do not get it at all. Therefore, understanding my audience in the planning stage is extremely important and I wasn't quite sure if this audience would laugh or consider me odd.
Again, the Navajo proved to be just like most audiences. They laughed at all my quirky jokes, they asked interesting questions, and they appeared to follow all my material. One difference between these students and some others is how appreciative they were. They truly appreciated me and my lessons--a teacher's dream come true.
Navajo police and driving on the reservation

Countless times, people warned me that the police on the reservation were sticklers for the speed limit and hand out tickets like a hot dog vendor at a baseball game. This was not my experience at all. Speeding wasn't on my agenda, so I didn't press the issue in the first place. However, I did not witness officers handing out tickets or setting up speed traps. I found the police to be similar to all others I've seen. They are there to help.

My visit with those at Dine' College demonstrates -- to me at least -- that none of us are very different from each other. We may be separated by tradition and location, but we are all very similar.

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