Navajo language class offered at NMSU

December 21, 1999 by Rita A. Popp NMSU News Center

The Dine (Navajo) language will be taught at New Mexico State University during the spring 2000 semester.

NMSU first offered Dine in the fall as a distance education class that originated at Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute in Albuquerque. This spring, the class will be taught at NMSU by Dolly Montoya, a Navajo and NMSU curriculum and instruction doctoral student. Montoya served as the fall class’s content specialist and tutor.

The beginning-level, three-credit class is being offered through the university’s languages and linguistics department. The class aims to help Navajo students become more fluent readers and writers of their native language. By mid-December, 17 students had registered for the class.

NMSU junior nursing student Natasha Bitsui of Chinle, Ariz., said she “jumped at the chance” to sign up for the spring class to brush up on writing Dine. She took a similar class at Dine College in Arizona several semesters ago.

“I grew up speaking it but didn’t know you could write it,” Bitsui said.

Of about 450 Native American NMSU students, about 350 are Navajo.

“Dine is the language spoken by a lot of Navajo students in their homes on the reservation, but many are not fluent in it. They haven’t studied the grammar and structure and don’t write in Dine,” said Thomas Hoeksema, an NMSU English professor emeritus and foundation relations director.

Hoeksema convened a group of NMSU faculty and staff in the fall of 1998 to discuss how to better meet the needs of Indian students. The leaders of NMSU’s American Indian Program, Indian Resource Development program, languages and linguistics department and other academic departments suggested ideas.

The most viable, they decided, was a Dine class if funds could be found. While the SIPI class is supported by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, NMSU did not have funds for a class.

Hoeksema acquired $16,000 in funding for the fall and spring classes from BHP Minerals of Farmington, N.M., Ernst & Young C.P.A.s and an existing Kellogg Foundation grant.

“This project ties in nicely with NMSU’s Bridges Program, supported by a $750,000 Kellogg grant,” Hoeksema said. The Bridges Program encourages New Mexico tribal college students to pursue four-year university degrees in the social sciences and humanities, he said.

NMSU would like to make Dine a permanent part of the curriculum and to offer an advanced class in the future, Hoeksema said.

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