SHIPROCK — Language preservation, culture and sacred sites are among the discussion topics at the 18th Navajo Studies Conference this week at Diné College.

The conference, boasting a theme of "Redefining Navajo Values and Practices for a Sustainable Future," is expected to bring a crowd of about 400 people to Shiprock, said Lester Tsosie, board president for Navajo Studies Conference Inc.

This is the second consecutive Navajo Studies Conference held on the Diné College campus.

"The purpose is to engage the public in current research and information that pertains to government, language preservation, culture, anything affecting Navajo life," Tsosie said. "In the past I have seen participants really get an appreciation of the research, a good understanding on the Navajo perspective."

The three-day conference kicks off at 8 a.m. Thursday and concludes at 12 p.m. Saturday. The agenda includes public forums on sustainability, research presentations, sessions on Navajo poetry and art, field trips to local attractions, a Friday evening banquet and lots of entertainment.

Gloria Emerson, owner of the Shiprock coffee shop Ahweeh Gohweeh, will moderate a discussion Friday afternoon about the sustainability of artists and poets.

Emerson, who describes herself as an "aging artist," said she pushed for organizers to include a forum for the arts.

"The conference is usually more cerebral, more left-brained," she said. "We felt it was important to begin addressing the contributions that the more creative people make."

The session includes comments from several Navajo artists who have used their media to fight for social change, Emerson said.

"I think what we want to see is this as a springboard to further conversations and vigorous dialogue, to critique our work and try to understand what direction we can take to become more efficient," she said. "Many of the better artists take their work elsewhere, and I think we need to home-grow our ways of marketing."

The arts and poetry session runs Friday from 12:30 to

5 p.m. in the Phil L. Thomas Performing Arts Center.

Another discussion topic is finding employment on the reservation for Navajo people returning with advanced degrees. Moroni Benally, a doctoral student at the University of Washington, will present a research paper Friday that explores the Nation's stumbling blocks to welcoming educated American Indians back into the communities.

"Practically, it's very difficult," he said. "There's a lot of bureaucracy in terms of employment, and a lot of Navajos with advanced degrees want to come back and work for the tribe, but they find the salaries aren't commensurate with their backgrounds."

Another barrier is culture, Benally said. He predicts substantial change in employment on the reservation will take as long as 40 to 50 years, but small changes can be made now.

"There's this push for cultural appropriateness, and sustainability as presently understood is a Western concept," he said. "We need to bring professionals back in a way that is appropriate and sustains the cultural life of people."

The conference agenda also includes ample opportunity for participants to discuss sustainability of the Navajo way of life in regard to the slumping national economy, Tsosie said. Organizers expect a diverse crowd of students, professionals, the general public and non-Navajo participants.

"With today's challenging, unpredictable global market, people are yearning to learn about sustainable economic initiatives," Tsosie said. "This conference will bring together people from a variety of backgrounds, community leaders, educators, students of Navajo studies and young adults and elders who want to talk about how Navajos fit in this world, from understanding what

sustainability means to a strategy for preserving the Navajo language to promoting a vision for economic and educational sustainability."

If you go:

What: Navajo Studies Conference

When: Thursday to Saturday

Where: Diné College, Shiprock

Cost: Ranges from $10 per day for students or elders to $60 for the entire three-day conference

Information: www.navajostudies.org or (928) 724-6622