September 7, 2009

Indigenous Leadership Development Theory in a 21st century world

Filed under: Dialoguing — Editor @ 8:01 pm

Indigenous Leadership Development Theory in a 21st century world:

How would past Navajo Tribal Chairman Jacob C. Morgan’s vision for the Navajo Nation contribute to an evolving paradigm on Navajo Leadership Development?

By Lloyd L. Lee, Ph.D. (Diné)

Native American Studies

University of New Mexico

How can we develop a student’s mind, heart, spirit, and body to be leaders of change for their Indigenous communities? Indigenous nations in North America are living with enormous and challenging issues such as the well being of their people and the sustainability of their communities and nations.  Thousands of young educated Indigenous people are graduating from colleges with bachelors, masters, doctorates, and professional degrees with the skills and knowledge to help Indigenous nations’ overcome these challenges.

At the University of New Mexico in the Native American Studies department, we are developing an Indigenous leadership development program.  We want students to become leaders of their communities.  How do we do it when all Indigenous communities and nations have their own distinct philosophies and worldviews when it comes to leadership?  It is an immense challenge.  We know the goals and strategies of each Indigenous community and nation will be fundamentally different resulting in distinct ways of maturing leaders.

At the curriculum level, the Native American Studies department wants to educate students on the history of Indigenous leadership, develop students who know the practical needs of their communities and nations, and to transform an ideology of competition into cooperation, to promote group harmony, to facilitate unity, to understand and work with group and individual talents to sustain community within a social, cultural, and spiritual framework.  We want students who want to lead their communities and nations to transformative and sustainable change; moreover, to be accountable to the philosophical principles set forth by their respective peoples.

This essay is a discussion on cultivating a paradigm for Indigenous leadership development as it relates specifically to the Navajo Nation.  Fostering Indigenous leadership development theories for specific Native nations will be the cornerstone in educating students to become the visionaries and protectors of their Native nations and communities.  The department wants to integrate indigenous philosophies and an evolving paradigm on Indigenous leadership development with the goals of a Native nation or community.

The focal point of this essay will be to analyze the ideas set forth by former Navajo Tribal Chairman Jacob C. Morgan in the 1920s and 1930s and how the old dichotomy of assimilation versus traditionalism is no longer applicable in regards to educating students on how to be transformative and productive leaders to their Navajo communities.  Jacob C. Morgan was a man who believed in the boarding school education, which he felt would lead the Navajo people toward civilization.  At the same time he wanted the Navajo people to assimilate to western and Christian values, he believed in the Navajo people deciding how to govern themselves; rather than, the Bureau of Indian Affairs dictating what was in the best interest for the people.  The focus on Morgan’s ideas and thoughts will hopefully create a theory on Navajo leadership development.

The Navajo Nation has about 300,000 citizens, where the median age is twenty-four years.1 The Navajo Nation is a young Native nation where thousands of young Navajo students are becoming educated in all areas of western disciplines.  These young Navajo students are the resources the Navajo Nation can utilize to implement transformative and sustainable change.  These young students minds and thoughts are also contributing to the maturing of the Navajo Nation.

Traditional Navajo governance and leadership is distinct from the present.  In the 1920s, the chapter house entity was implemented by the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) to help create a unified government system although traditional mechanisms of recognizing and acknowledging leaders was still in place in many Navajo communities.  A democratically elected leader replaced the traditional recognized naat’aanii (planner).  Chapter houses became a government structure to organize Navajo people and places where people could gather and talk about the issues impacting their families, relatives, homes, and farms.  The impact of this new governing system for the Navajo people established protocol.  Today, all politics, issues, and ideas begin in chapter houses throughout the Navajo Nation.  Past Navajo Tribal Chairmen and Presidents today must interact with as many Navajo people in many chapter houses to be known and eventually elected.  Prior to this new governing system, one individual did not represent the entire Navajo people.  For the past eighty years, the chapter house governing system has become the mechanism for people to develop and mature into leaders of their communities.

Jacob C. Morgan was a man who benefited from this new governing system.  Morgan was born in 1879 near present-day Crownpoint, New Mexico.  He received a boarding school education and believed in the institution to educate the Navajo people.  He spent many years of his life involved in the boarding school institution either at the Hampton Institute in Virginia or working at various boarding schools serving Navajo children.  He also accepted the Christian Reform religion.  His Christian zeal, faith in the boarding school education, hard work, and his willingness to succeed in the white world reflected his worldview and way of life.  Morgan wanted Navajo people to aspire to become middle-class whites.  At the same time he promoted Navajo people to live the white American lifestyle, he advocated Navajo people should engage in self-determination.   He saw no contradiction between being Diné and wanting to aspire to live as a white man.  He was ambitious and wanted to be a leader.  Although he wanted Navajo people to go through the civilizing process, he never denied his Diné heritage.

In the 1920s and 1930s, Morgan was a leader Navajo people responded to and respected; he was a delegate who represented the Shiprock area prior to his tribal chairmanship from 1938-1942.  Though he was born near Crownpoint, New Mexico, he understood Navajo people and their needs.  He spent time going to various communities all over the reservation trying to convert Navajo people to the Christian Reform religion.   He talked, listened, and respected peoples’ views and thoughts.  He understood and promoted Navajo regionalism and wanted Navajo people to self-determine their way of life.  Prior to 1923, no unified and centralized government structure existed in Navajo society and the western concept of nationalism was unheard of for almost all of the people.  Clans and extended families governed their region and area and were expected to respect other regions and areas.  Many Navajo men and women were leaders of different regions.  No one individual was the main chief or leader for all of Navajo society.  The concept of a unified Navajo Nation had not materialized in the early twentieth century.

When Morgan began to participate in Navajo politics fully in 1923, he felt he understood the Navajo people and their needs.  While Morgan felt he was working for the people and other Navajo leaders respected him for his work, there were differing views on how to go about helping the people.  One individual who opposed Morgan’s leadership style was Henry Chee Dodge.

Dodge was born in the 1850s and went on the Long Walk as a young boy.  He became an interpreter in the 1870s and became very influential with both Navajos and white Americans.  The United States government recognized him as head chief of the Navajo people in 1884 and he unofficially had this title for the next forty years.2 He gained this recognition through his work as a scout, interpreter, his friendships with white Americans and his fluency in the Navajo and English languages.  He was married eight times and through his marriages gained access to land at Crystal and Tanner Springs to graze livestock.  He became a commercial owner and managed his livestock and sheep similar to non-Navajos who lived off the reservation.  He ventured into other businesses including a trading post. He was the wealthiest of all the Navajo people in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.  Dodge rose to the most prominent spokesman and statesman for the Navajo people as he attained considerable political influence.  Like Morgan, Dodge acculturated to white American conventions.  Both Morgan and Dodge based decisions on Navajo and white American cultures.  Both were well respected and recognized as leaders for their region, Morgan in the Shiprock area and Dodge in the Fort Defiance and central region of the Navajo reservation.  While both men incorporated American attitudes and thoughts, they did not have the same view when it came to American influence in the formation of Navajo government and the growth of the Navajo Nation.

Dodge encouraged the concept of a unified Navajo Nation and Navajo nationalism when he advocated oil and gas rights in the Shiprock area to be held in common for all Navajo people.  He also campaigned for a centralize government with one head.

…I take a deep interest in all the Navajos; not only those of my immediate neighborhood.  I would like to see them all make equal progress, but I am sure that it is only possible if we have one man at the head of the tribe, an active, strong, energetic and able man….A uniform educational system, uniform treatment, uniform orders and regulations, and uniform progress would be the result.  The whole tribe would advance as one unit.3

Morgan, on the other hand, pushed for Navajos who lived in the Shiprock area to receive the lease royalties only.  Morgan also claimed educated Navajos needed more job opportunities than traditional Navajos needed sheep.  Based on this attitude, Morgan did not support the idea of expanding the land base of the Navajo reservation for Navajo sheepherders.  Dodge continually asked the government to extend the reservation boundary in New Mexico. Dodge was concerned about eastern Navajos living off the reservation.  Dodge often clashed with Morgan on utilizing the funds coming from the government and mineral lease royalties to purchase land in New Mexico with Morgan wanting to spend the fund for water development projects and assisting young “educated” Navajos.  Morgan wanted “educated” opportunities for the people.  Morgan also did not want the government to control the affairs of the Navajo people.  He did not want to give into Dodge and the BIA.

The federal government controlled the tribal council’s agenda, monies, and decisions for the first ten years of the council’s existence.  Morgan was very critical and he began to push his agenda in the council.  He favored wage labor for young men and women, recommended development of water access projects to all parts of the reservation, home improvement, more and better health institutions, and the reorganization of agency police force and Indian court judges.4 He wanted technological improvements to the Navajo way of life.  Dodge also wanted the Navajo people to have “better” lives, but he disagreed on many occasions with Morgan on how to proceed toward improving Navajo people’s lives.  Dodge always had the interest of the pastoral Navajo economy.  He often talked with government officials about the interests of the Navajo people especially extending the reservation boundary in New Mexico.  At times Dodge opposed the federal government and fought for the ability of the Navajo Nation to decide what should be done with the funds obtained from mineral leases.  Morgan and Dodge fought consistently because each wanted their version of the Navajo Nation to become realized.

The 1920s and 1930s began the era of a unified Navajo Nation and ushered in western leadership styles.  Morgan, with his boarding school education and Christian Reform missionary work, believed in “educated” Navajos leading a new Navajo Nation while traditional Navajo ways of life such as sheepherding were part of the past and no longer applicable to the Navajo people at the time.  He argued and debated with Dodge, the BIA, and the Commissioner of Indian Affairs John Collier in the 1930s.  This leadership style was distinctly different from traditional leadership styles.  Traditionally speaking, Navajo leaders were appointed and recognized by clan and extended family members of a particular region.  Usually, older Navajo adults held these positions and a protocol had been established so chosen leaders were not espousing to be chiefs of families and areas but rather these individuals were humble and respected the community.  The community was paramount.  The people of the community understood how leaders were chosen.  The leader was the function of the community, not the other way around.  Morgan bypassed this traditional approach to governance and advocated for “educated” Navajos to lead the Navajo people into the twentieth century.  Morgan criticized Dodge, his elder, at every council meeting.  Morgan did not want to follow the traditional protocol, and he felt as an “educated” Navajo man, he could participate in a democratic process of debate.  Dodge did not like the fact that Morgan was openly disagreeing and debating with him.  With his western leadership style, Morgan emerged as a recognized spokesman for the Shiprock region and an outsider to the BIA sanctioned tribal council.

While the message of acculturation and self-determination might be seen as contradictory or misguided, Morgan’s career in politics can provide an insightful discussion on what Indigenous leadership development paradigms might epitomize in a twenty-first century world.  The predominant ideas surrounding Indigenous leadership development are men and women will either balance traditional cultural values with contemporary ways of living or live for contemporary ways of governing only.  Only a small number of Indigenous leaders openly discuss with their community about living a life based on traditional philosophies and cultural values with very little or no influence from American attitudes, values, and ways of life, what Indigenous scholars call a decolonized approach.

For many Indigenous peoples, they would not want to return to traditional cultural ways of living simply for the reason that they are acculturated and/or assimilated to the American lifestyle.  Indigenous activists and scholars are addressing the need to reclaim and relearn how to think, act, and live based on traditional philosophies.  Morgan would vehemently disagree with this approach.  He lived in the present and based his beliefs in what was happening to the Navajo people at the time.  Morgan’s perspective shows the dichotomy of traditional versus contemporary ways of living.  While it can be argued this division created opportunities for the Navajo people, it can also be argued that this separation is the exact problems that affect many in the twenty-first century.  Morgan wanted a “better” way of life for the people as well.  Many Navajo leaders of the past wanted the best for the Navajo people; their understanding of better and best meant the Navajo people’s way of life needed to replicate American conveniences.  In Morgan’s perception and many other Navajo leaders at the time they believed the future for Navajo rested in an American education.  Morgan, as others, wanted paved roads, indoor plumbing, running water, a boarding school education, and to ingest themselves into a capitalist economy.  Morgan’s leadership was based on the idea of living for the present and he did not allow for traditional Diné philosophy and spirituality as a guiding framework for life.

Traditional Diné philosophy allows for the ability to incorporate and align itself with other philosophies.  It can be argued that Morgan was following traditional Diné philosophy.  The question becomes whether or not Morgan’s approach as well as many other Navajo leaders at the time was accurate and proper.  If we critically review Navajo society in the twenty-first century, similar problems exist as it did when Morgan was in the tribal council although the cultural knowledge and teachings are being less practiced now.  If we assess Navajo society on the teachings of traditional cultural knowledge, then we can assume Navajo people are failing to ensure cultural continuance.  However, if we assess Navajo society based on Morgan’s objective, then the Navajo people are moving in the right direction.  They have not fully achieved what Morgan wished; but they are moving closer to acculturation.

Morgan’s approach to leadership demonstrates how one man thought of the present and worked for the Navajo people to achieve a particular vision yet the question becomes whether he would advocate the same approach if he knew the status of Navajo cultural knowledge today.  At the time Morgan was in the tribal council, the primary language spoken on the reservation was Navajo, when very few Navajo children had been sent to school.  Missionaries did not have a larger impact on the people as they do today.  No gangs existed on the reservation, today over fifty do.5 Thousands of Navajo children have graduated with a high school degree and some have gone on to graduate with college degrees.  Navajo society today is distinct in many ways since the 1920s.  Did Morgan envision a Navajo Nation as it is today?

Besides advocating for assimilation, Morgan wanted the Navajo people to practice self-determination.  He wanted the people to decide what was in their best interest and for the BIA, especially Commissioner of Indian Affairs John Collier, to stop imposing their ideas onto the people.  While the Navajo tribal government has lesser interference from the BIA today, the federal government continues to have federal oversight, plenary power, over all Native nations in the United States.  The Navajo Nation does not have the ability to self-determine in various key areas including the power to protect sacred sites on federal and private property land within the confines of reservation status land, have jurisdiction over all peoples regarding all criminal offenses, and to operate a gaming enterprise independently of state and federal management.  State and federal entities continue to play a significant role in Navajo politics.  The dictionary definition of self-determination is the ability for an Indigenous nation to determine for oneself without outside influence.  It has not been realized for Indigenous nations in the United States.  At this point in time, the plenary power doctrine is limiting the ability for Native nations to practice true self-determination.

The paradigm on Indigenous leadership development should be based on a decolonized and sustainable future of Indigenous nations and not on the idea of balancing traditional cultural values with contemporary ways of living or for espousing only living in the present day.  Traditional philosophies taught Indigenous peoples to live for the future and we must regain that type of thinking.  It can be argued Morgan lived a life similar to this traditional philosophical understanding.  He lived in the present thinking of the future however he did not value traditional cultural knowledge as useful for future generations.  Navajo leadership development should include using traditional philosophical principles as the framework on how to cultivate young students to become leaders whose goal is to decolonize the community and uphold Navajo self-determination for future generations.

The Lakota people have a proverb: Mitakuye Oyasin “We are all related.”  This metaphor personifies the integrative expression of community.  Human beings live in communities to share life through everyday acts, through song, dance, story, celebration and a place for feeling and being connected.6 People have context in communities, which brings meaning to their service toward their people.  Past Indigenous leaders were selected for these positions based on their service to the people; to serve one’s people was a significant goal of one’s life.  This was a result of living in the community and striving to become a complete human being based on the community’s values and worldview.  Traditional philosophies were predicated on the notion of being practical and beneficial to the community.  The values of reciprocity, support, purpose, and vision help develop individuals to become leaders in their communities.7 Indigenous leadership in the past was earned by achieving a level of integrity.8

Indigenous leaders in the past thought of a healthy and enriching community first.  They loved and cared for all in the community and trusted their own visions for their people.  They used their imagination and creativity to sustain their communities.  They thought of future generations when they made critical decisions.  Indigenous leaders in the twenty-first century should restore this attitude and belief of serving the community while enriching the health of the people when they make fundamental and vital decisions for their nations and communities.

Indigenous leadership development programs will need to educate their students on how to follow an Indigenous worldview similar to the past in a capitalist world of the twenty-first century.  In the Native American Studies department at the University of New Mexico, we want to teach a philosophical course on traditional and contemporary views of Indigenous leadership; a socio-political course on the communal and governmental contexts of Indigenous leadership today; and a practical application of Indigenous leadership principles course.  These courses would be conducive to Native nations in New Mexico and incorporate community building and a community-based paradigm for a twenty-first century world.  The students in this program would learn about their peoples’ struggles in the social, political, and economic climate.  Important areas of study would include cultural revitalization, community sustainability, economic and environmental exploitation, political self-determination and rights, and politics of identity.

The evolving paradigms of Indigenous leadership development would then be based on the ethics and values set forth by the Pueblo, Navajo, and Apache peoples of the southwest region of the United States.  These theories would be about re-writing the story of Indigenous peoples in a contemporary reality.  These theories would advocate action and have guiding principles based on observations within their social, cultural, and community context.  Indigenous leadership theories would challenge the negative assumptions about traditional and contemporary Indigenous life, philosophy, community, and leadership.  These theories will also demonstrate the active principle of re-asserting community, rights, self-determination, and economic viability for Indigenous peoples in this region.  Analyzing Jacob C. Morgan’s thoughts and the ideas he had about building a Navajo Nation or any other past Navajo leader can help Navajo leadership programs cultivate young Navajo students, where goals of these programs would be to ensure social, cultural, and economic opportunities within a sustainable environment of decolonization.

The Navajo Nation council has eighty-eight delegates.  The majority of Navajo Nation council delegates and chapter officers are male.  Many do not possess college degrees.  Large Navajo communities in Phoenix and Albuquerque do not have council representation.  The Navajo Nation has no written constitution only a tribal code outlining and guiding government functions and laws.  The majority of Navajo students are educated by the public school systems of Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah.  The Navajo Nation sanctions one secondary school, Navajo Preparatory in Farmington, New Mexico.  The Navajo Nation has made critical decisions in the last eighty plus years that have had positive attributes to the people such as the permanent trust fund as well as negative attributes such as the Navajo marriage act.  Past Navajo leaders made these decisions and the students we educate today will continue the trend.  What leadership paradigm do we develop to reflect the Navajo Nation in the twenty-first century?

Navajo Leadership development programs should work along with local and regional universities.  These cooperative programs can induct curriculum based on the notion of Navajo community building and decolonization.  Traditional Navajo philosophy in addition to contemporary skills should be taught; although the primary objective will be on developing young men and women whose goal is to decolonize their Navajo communities.

Morgan’s thoughts on self-determination, assimilation, and present-day challenges show his observation of the Navajo Nation landscape at the time.  The concept of a Navajo Nation in the 1920s and 1930s was new; Navajo society was moving toward acculturation of American values and beliefs.  Almost all Navajo people still practiced cultural knowledge and the language was still being spoken widely.  The landscape of the Navajo Nation today is fluid and progressing toward the direction where cultural knowledge and language are facing much adversity.  The Navajo Nation’s fundamental goals are economic development and opportunity.  Language revitalization and cultural sustainability are priorities for the Navajo people but are dependent on public and boarding schools on the reservation whose ultimate goal is to prepare students to work in a capitalist America.

The Navajo Nation has over forty percent living below the poverty level; many Navajo citizens are high school graduates only.9 The major enterprises of the Navajo Nation are a brand new casino gaming facility in Church Rock, New Mexico, an agricultural products industry, shopping centers, a housing authority, a utility authority, a hospitality enterprise, an engineering and construction authority, an oil and gas company, a radio station, an arts and crafts enterprise, a transit system, and a transmission and generation project.10 A fairly significant sum of the government revenue comes from the U.S. federal government and royalties from oil and coal companies.  Hospital management is still run by the U.S. federal government and while the majority of Navajo children go to public schools, there are still federal boarding schools on the reservation.  Numerous Navajo families throughout the reservation and the adjacent checkerboard lands still do not have electricity, running water, or many other modern conveniences.  Numerous Navajo families are still coping with the traumas of relocation from the Joint Use Area (JUA) between the Navajo and Hopi nations to the new lands area south of Sanders, Arizona.  Domestic violence and gang violence are a regular occurrence and depression continues to impact the psyche of many Navajo people.  The number of Navajo language speakers is over 100,000, but the number of speakers under the age of eighteen is significantly lower compared to the middle and elder generations.11 Thousands of Navajo people identify themselves as Christians or Native American Church members while a small number of people still practice traditional Navajo spirituality.12

Also part of the Navajo Nation landscape today is thousands of young Navajo children who go to public and private schools in Phoenix, Albuquerque, Los Angeles, Salt Lake City, and Denver.  These children are developing a distinct Navajo perspective that Navajo leadership development programs will need to incorporate into an evolving paradigm on Navajo leadership development.  Navajo artists and writers also can provide insightful and thought-provoking views of the Navajo political landscape.  Esther Belin and Reid Gomez are such writers today who theorize about the Navajo political body.

Morgan’s thoughts also teach us that leaders need to promote a vision for the Navajo Nation.  The paramount goal should be self-determination and to work with the federal government to ensure a path for Navajo nationhood.  This goal, however, does not mean to continue to work within a capitalist economic system.  The Navajo government should examine how their enterprises can operate in a living system where all Navajo individuals who want running water, electricity, healthy foods, and good health care receive it without imposing a classic capitalistic approach.  In other words, the economic system should work for all the people rather than the traditional approach of competition and profit motive.  One way to think about how this could be done is to work with Diné College, the Diné Policy Institute, and with major universities in Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah to assist with the visioning of this plan.  Ideas must not only come from business-oriented individuals, but Native American/American Indian studies departments and programs where there are knowledgeable individuals such as Dr. Gregory Cajete at the University of New Mexico, Dr. Manley Begay at the University of Arizona, and Dr. Myla Vicenti Carpio at Arizona State University, who know the concepts of Indigenous community and native nation building and decolonization.

These ideas and theories need to advocate for the development of young Navajo people, whose knowledge comes from traditional Navajo philosophy, western disciplines, and promotes the goal to help their communities overcome colonial oppression.  These ideas and theories should not promote only administrative experience with strategic planning, but the idea of working to create sustainable decolonized Navajo communities.  Language revitalization, energy efficient community enterprises, and cultural knowledge regeneration should be primary objectives in the program.  These leadership development programs should reflect an open-minded concept of Navajo citizenship and worldview, which encompasses the language, land, relationships, philosophy, and the acknowledgement of the true history of the Navajo people.  These programs should also advance the notion of creating individual men and women who will be Navajo warriors for the twenty-first century and beyond.  Kahnawa:ke Mohawk scholar, Taiaiake Alfred, provides a list of questions on recognizing the kind of warrior who wants to achieve decolonization in a personal and practical sense for their communities:

  • Are these people who call themselves warriors simple and austere, or dependent on and attached to material things, living unnecessarily complicated lives? Simple lifestyles, disciplined surroundings, and a healthy existence characterized by cleanliness and organization are the traits of a warrior.
  • Are they kind and generous, living for others, especially the poor, in what Buddhist teachers call accepting responsibility for being “the strength of the weak” instead of living a showy, braggart, and arrogant life?
  • Are they accustomed to self-sacrifice? Do they have a fit body, do physical training, and eat a moderate and healthy diet of natural foods, as opposed to living the slovenly and poisoned lives expected of colonized beings?
  • Do they benefit from some form of spiritual introspection that deepens their existence beyond the fast-paced, frenetic, and essentially meaningless modern lifestyle of the mainstream?
  • Do they have self-control and self-discipline?
  • Have they conquered their rage and do they engage challenges without anger but with non-violence, forbearance, and the oft-derided but very warrior-like trait of stoicism?
  • Are they incorruptible in public affairs and sincere in their private lives? In contrast to the hypocritical self-serving ethic of contemporary politics, do they truly serve the people?
  • Are they honest people who keep their word? Do they believe in and practice integrity and democracy in all dealings with other people?
  • Do they understand and respect the power of words?  Or do they tell lies, speak maliciously, use sharp or harsh words, or engage in useless gossip? Colonial beings use words to harm, destroy, and divide; warriors use words to restore harmony to situations.
  • Are they moral? Or are they, like far too many of our people, abusive or prone to stealing? Does their use of drugs or alcohol cause them to lose control, leading to further abuses of their senses and a crazed or obsessively damaging sexuality?
  • Are they humble? Warriors are students in search of knowledge and recognize that the world is full of teachers and mentors. Warriors seek to place themselves as humble learners in the care of learned elders and mentors, recognizing that the mentor knows more than they do. Unlike the precocious, the know-it-all, and the smart-ass, the knowledge-seekers lead exemplary lives based on their growing understanding and do not hoard or profit from what they have gained on the warrior’s journey.
  • Is their life-goal spiritual enlightenment and empowerment? Not money, not revenge, not prestige and status, but the cultivation of the ability to bring enlightenment and power to others, to have the capacity to bring back balance in the world and in people.13

These questions are a very good start to helping build a leadership program where college students are taught and trained to be the warriors of the twenty-first century, where the paramount objective for them is helping their communities rebuild.  Tiana Bighorse in Bighorse the Warrior also provides an excellent example of what a warrior means in a Navajo mindset.

When Mr. Bighorse is a boy, he goes with his father.  His father teaches everything that a boy should do to become a man.  And what he shouldn’t do.  And his father tells him, “You will be brave and be a warrior someday.”  In Navajo, a warrior means someone who can get through the snowstorm when no one else can.  In Navajo, a warrior is the one that doesn’t get the flu when everyone else does—the only one walking around, making a fire for the sick, giving them medicine, feeding them food, making them strong to fight the flu.  In Navajo, a warrior is the one who can use words so everyone knows they are part of the same family.  In Navajo, a warrior says what is in the people’s hearts.  Talks about what the land means to them.  Bring them together to fight for it.14

Bighorse, along with many other Navajo individuals, has a Navajo mindset when it comes to understanding and identifying the men and women who serve their family, friends, and communities not their own selfish goals.  These warriors can have the compassion, courage, endurance, and the skills to ensure the well being and prosperity of the Navajo Nation.  Indigenous leadership development programs should teach their students to be twenty-first century warriors; and in turn, help mature young men and women who are committed to upholding Indigenous self-determination and ensuring sustainable communities.

Morgan’s vision for the Navajo Nation is an example on theorizing what an indigenous leadership development program will be for a twenty-first century world.  Morgan worked to “better” Navajo life.  Navajo leadership development programs can do the same today.  The Native American Studies department at the University of New Mexico wants to educate students who will envision and advocate the idea of community building in Navajo and all Southwest Indigenous communities.  It is a daunting challenge, but one that must be met to ensure the sustainability of all Indigenous peoples and human beings on this earth.


1 Trib Choudhary. Navajo Nation Data from U.S. Census 2000 (Window Rock, Ariz.: Division of Economic Development, Navajo Nation, 2002), 2.

2 L. G. Moses and Raymond Wilson, eds. Indian Lives: Essays on Nineteenth and Twentieth Century Native American Leaders (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1993), 96.

3 Lawrence C. Kelly, The Navajo Indians and Federal Indian Policy 1900-1935 (Tucson: The University of Arizona Press, 1968), 66.

4 J.C. Morgan. “A Retrospect,” Southern Workman, 1933: 80.

5 Eric Henderson, Stephen J. Kunitz, and Jerrold E. Levy. “The Origins of Navajo Youth Gangs.” American Indian Culture and Research Journal 23 (3): 243-264, 1999.

6 Gregory Cajete. Look to the Mountain: An Ecology of Indigenous Education (North Carolina: Kivaki Press, 1994).

7 Ibid., 167.

8 Ibid., 167.

9 Choudhary, Navajo Nation Data from U.S. Census 2000, 21.

10 Trib Choudhary. 2002-2003 Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy of the Navajo Nation (Window Rock, AZ: Division of Economic Development, Navajo Nation, 2002), 15-24.

11 Choudhary, Navajo Nation Data from U.S. Census 2000, 58.

12 Steve Pavlik. “Navajo Christianity: Historical Origins and Modern Trends.” Wicazo Sa Review 12 (2): 43-59, 1997.

13 Taiaiake Alfred. Wasase: indigenous pathways of action and freedom (Peterborough, Ontario, Canada: Broadview Press, LTD., 2005), 88-89.

14 Tiana Bighorse. Bighorse the Warrior (Tucson: The University of Arizona Press, 1990), xxiv.


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