Navajo children are forced to forgo some of their culture in order to receive a Western education, said a retired Navajo anthropologist, Harry Walters, on March 3.
About 50 people attended Walter's lecture on Navajo culture at the University of New Mexico, sponsored by the University Libraries Indigenous Nations Library Program.
"Young people in this nation need to understand who they are and where they come from," Walters said. "It is hard for our young people that come from this society to get that from the Western education system."
Walters taught courses on Navajo history, culture and anthropology at Navajo and San Juan colleges. Many of his students were not able to transfer their credits smoothly into more Western colleges because he was not teaching a Western based cirriculum, Walters said.
"In the early 20th century we had religion forced on us by the government. They saw us being the way we are as an obstacle. Some of that has been addressed to some extent. But we are still experiencing some of that discrimination in education," Walters said.
Understanding Navajo culture will help to preserve it and help Westerners understand behavior of the Navajo people, Walters said. A large part of Navajo culture is to see everything as an interaction between two opposing forces in the natural order of the world, Walters said.
"You ladies in here, you are not feminine all the way through. You have some masculine qualities, you are capable of doing a lot of things a man can do, but your masculinity is limited," Walters said. "And us males sitting in here we also have a feminine side."
Navajo culture emphasizes recognizing past mistakes and then starting over again, he said.