Sharing Navajo Traditions with Utah’s Schoolchildren

The presence of people of color in schools is very important. I can walk into a classroom and not say anything and there is an unspoken understanding that this is the expectation of students of color, that they continue their education.

How many American Indian Tribes are there? That’s the question that stumps them. And it’s one of the reasons why Sharee Tso takes her Navajo culture to schoolchildren, so they can learn more about this nation’s First People and understand that they’re still around.

Navajo Cultural Presentation 1

Sharee Tso talks to West Lake Junior High School students about her Navajo culture.

“I do this to let them know that American Indians are not in the past, we are still here, still practicing our traditions,” she says, “and we feel it is important to share these traditions with our kids and with other people.”

She has given presentations in schools throughout Utah and in Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, Texas, Missouri and Alaska and she was at West Lake Junior High School in the Granite School District on Friday.

As an appointed member of the Utah State Board of Education Coalition of Minorities Advisory Committee, Tso helps advise and monitor USBE, the Utah State Office of Education and stakeholders throughout the state on issues relating to the education of ethnic minority students in Utah.

“It is important for CMAC to encourage people of color to be in our school system and to work with the students,” she says. “We are advocates of our communities and voices for our communities and the students we represent in the state of Utah. So if we, as CMAC members, are dedicated to our advocacy in the community, we will be visible, not detached. So it is just really important to me.”

Tso shared experiences from her life growing up on the Navajo reservation, aspects of Navajo culture, like using stars to time planting and animal husbandry. She also demonstrated traditional methods for grinding corn and carding and spinning wool.

But one of the most important lessons she delivered wasn’t traditional, it was educational.

“The presence of people of color in schools is very important,” she says. “I can walk into a classroom and not say anything and there is an unspoken understanding that this is the expectation of students of color, that they continue their education.”

Tso raised three children as a single mother and is now a grandmother. She is also a doctoral candidate studying education at the University of Utah.

Esperanza Flores, a Navajo eighth grader, was in Monson’s class for Tso’s presentation. And while she says she knew a lot already from her mother and grandmothers she said it was neat for her to meet Tso and talk to her about her life growing up.

“I think she had a really rough life as a kid,” Flores says. “School isn’t hard for me, but if it were I’d keep going just like her, especially with the culture.”

November is Native American Heritage Month and West Lake Social Studies teacher Brenda Monson says she invited Tso to deliver the presentation so her students can have a better understanding of modern day American Indians and to honor students who share this cultural heratage.

“What I expect them to get out of this is a better understanding about Native Americans, that we still have Native Americans, and what they are like today, that they aren’t like how they are portrayed in old Westerns,” she says. “And I thought that it would also show our Native American students that they are important, too, that they are an important part of our school and we want to recognize them as well as our students from other cultures.”

West Lake represents Utah’s increasingly diverse population; the school’s students speak three dozen languages.

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