New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez's announcement last week that state education materials will be translated into Diné acknowledges the importance of the Navajo language. But, ultimately, the program fails to acknowledge the lack of Internet access on the Navajo Nation.
Martinez announced that the state's "Readers Raise the Roof" materials will soon be translated into Diné so parents who only speak the Navajo language can help improve their children's reading skills. The interactive program helps students learn to read and teaches parents strategies to support their children. In theory, translating the materials into Diné means more people can access them with the goal of improving elementary school students' reading scores.
But simply translating the materials doesn't go far enough. The program's parent portal can only be accessed online, and, as one parent pointed out last week, that can be a problem on the reservation, where Internet availability is limited. Democratic gubernatorial candidate Lawrence Rael raised a valid concern. While the program benefits urban families, it doesn't do much for those in rural and remote regions. He says more effort should be devoted to building infrastructure in those places that will provide Internet access.
Less than 4 percent of people on the Navajo Nation have access to basic wireline broadband speeds of 3 megabits per second downstream, according to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration's National Broadband Map. While the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority is working to change that, it's an uphill battle. Tribal officials say an $8 million data center in Shiprock that opened last year will provide wireless Internet access to 70 percent of the Navajo population living on the reservation. But that process will likely take years and millions more dollars.
So, while we support state education officials' efforts to promote Diné, we think more attention needs to be directed to the realities faced by the reservation's residents. Perhaps spending time and money on online portals that use Diné isn't the wisest move when the bulk of the people you're trying to reach have no access.
Still, we want to give credit where credit it due. This is the latest step officials have taken to promote Diné, which many fear is slowly fading away, and literacy. Language ties directly to a culture's history and traditions. Without a common language, children can't communicate as effectively with their grandparents and that severs a personal link to the past. The words themselves are history. The language allowed Code Talkers during World War II to craft an impenetrable code that helped end the war.
That's why we commend efforts over the last few years to promote a resurgence in Diné. We've seen some very creative approaches. A Navajo-dubbed version of "Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope" — that appeals to the younger generation — was released last year. And Byron Shorty founded the "Navajo Word of the Day" website. On Friday, he put on a workshop in Shiprock called Reinventing the Navajo Nation with Mobile Technology. Combining Diné with something people use all the time — a mobile application, a popular movie or a reading program – teaches reading and helps preserve the Diné language.