Questions linger over loss of Navajo culture in wake of UA

By Felicia Fonseca
Albuquerque, New Mexico (AP) 9-07

The recent death of a Navajo woman, allegedly at the hands of a fellow tribal member, has the tribe’s president questioning whether the Navajo people have lost their culture.

“I hate to think about it in those terms, but is the culture going away, are we losing the culture?” Joe Shirley Jr. said Thursday in an interview with The Associated Press. “Those are some of the questions that are coming up when you hear about these things.”

The Navajo Nation, which spans 27,000 square miles in parts of Utah, New Mexico and Arizona, is a tight-knit culture where many residents are related by clan, if not by blood.

Tribal members must respect all living things, watch over one another and keep in harmony, according to deeply rooted Navajo belief.

So when Shirley heard that 18-year-old Galareka Harrison of Many Farms, Ariz., has been charged in the stabbing death of Mia Henderson, also 18, of Tuba City, Ariz., he was shocked.

“We’re all family,” Shirley said. “We’re supposed to be getting along; we’re supposed to be looking out for each other. We take care of our own. That’s supposed to be the philosophy, the belief, the way.”

Harrison and Henderson were freshman at the University of Arizona taking a path heralded by Navajo leaders – education.

Their lives were full of promise, said Shirley, and the incident that unfolded Wednesday in the dorm room the teens shared should be an eye opener for tribal officials.

“We need to do everything we can to continue to be a people, continue to zero in on the culture,” he said. “We cannot lose it.”

“It’s a big challenge these days in spite of wanting to save the language, we’re losing a lot of it,” he said. “In spite of us wanting to save the ways, we’re losing a lot of it.”