How We Prayed Away our Native Language
Blog Filler Post #3 – Curlinda Mitchell
How we Prayed Away our Native Diné Language.
In the beginning, animals could talk and converse among themselves. As was told to us as young children during the winter months when the creation stories are told. We were taught through long stories from our elders as well as our parents. The information from the stories heard through the Diné Language is graphic, vivid with emotion, sensations, and understanding. The language gave comfort, wisdom, and understanding in the youth as they developed from infant to youth, to an elder age. The Diné were not given books, scriptures, or scrolls, and so the world they come from was oral.
In 1858, as the Navajo “Diné” People signed the treaty of 1858 with the US Govt. in Ft. Sumner, the treaty reads as;
In order to insure the civilization of the Indians entering into this treaty, the necessity of education is admitted, especially of such of them as may be settled on said agricultural parts of this reservation, and they therefore pledge themselves to compel their children, male and female, between the ages of six and sixteen years, to attend school; and it is hereby made the duty of the agent for said Indians to see that this stipulation is strictly complied with; and the United States agrees that, for every thirty children between said ages who can be induced or compelled to attend school, a house shall be provided, and a teacher competent to teach the elementary branches of an English education shall be furnished, who will reside among said Indians, and faithfully discharge his or her duties as a teacher.
The full treaty can be found at reta.nmsu.edu/modules/longwalk/lesson/document/treaty.htm
In order to comply, the Parents of children had to send the youth away to boarding schools off the Navajo “Diné” Reservation. The Parents heard horror stories from their children, but had to adhere to the challenges and hardship their children endured. Diné children had stories of being punished with any use of their Diné language at their schools. Diné Children were punished by being made to stand with their arms raised high for hours or until they fainted, they were forced to wash their mouths out with soap or bite on a bar of soap in front of the class, their hands were swatted with wooden rulers until their knuckles were red and raw, they were taken to be pattled by their teachers with boards, having lunch or supper taken away, standing in the lunch room watching all the other students eat, dragged by their ears across a classroom, and having their parents notified of their poor performance and noncompliance.
As the Youth suffered this deculturization and stripping of their language, their parents stood by and could do nothing. They sang their chants of healing, they had ceremonies at home to give strength to overcome. The Elders started to pray their children would learn the English language to allow them to reduce the struggle, and reduce the negative attention to the children for speaking their Diné Language. Today, almost 160 years later, we are trying to reverse the effects of this loss of language and hang on to the Diné language with our youth. The Elders today blame themselves for this loss, they say “We prayed away our Native Diné Language”.