Farmington — A spelling bee in the Navajo language is far from average.
One difference is that contestants are permitted to use small whiteboards to write the word in Navajo before spelling it aloud to the judges.
Secondly when it comes to spelling words like bááh (bread), the student spells it as "b, 'a' with a high tone, 'a' with a high tone, h."
The level of difficulty increases when words like 'alóós (rice) or óó' (fish) are given because the student has to describe the type of consonantal sound while spelling.
So for the word 'alóós, the contestant spells it as "glottal stop — a, l, 'o' with a high tone, 'o' with a high tone, s."
Despite the twists and turns of the Navajo language, six Piedra Vista High School students demonstrated their spelling skills on Thursday during the school's first Navajo Spelling Bee.
The first word – waa' (spinach) – was given to senior Martisha Clyde, who spelled the word without hesitation.
Clyde would eventually win by correctly spelling tsédídééh (purple).
"I feel good and kind of surprised actually," she said. "I studied a lot but I was a little bit intimidated."
With the help of her mother, Marita Clyde, who speaks Navajo, Clyde studied the 125 words on the spelling bee list by using a system of flash cards.
"I feel that a lot of people didn't appreciate it, especially young people don't appreciate how beautiful the Navajo culture can be," she said about her reason for learning Navajo.
Taking second place was senior Timberlin Henderson and in third was junior Allyn Trujillo.
All three will represent Piedra Vista at the Farmington Municipal School District's Navajo Spelling Bee on Tuesday at 6 p.m. at San Juan College's Information Technology Center.
During the first round, each student introduced themselves in Navajo, including naming each of their four clans then proceeding to spell words like chidí (vehicle), bilasáana (apple), shijaa' (my ear), and naa'ó í (beans).
Dakota Sherlock was the first to be eliminated by incorrectly spelling 'aak'ee (autumn) as "akéé." Also eliminated were Monica Manuelito and Christopher Benally.
This was the first Navajo Spelling Bee at Piedra Vista and was organized after 10 Navajo language students expressed interest in competing in the district spelling bee, said Quintina Platero, the high school's Navajo language teacher.
Carmelita Lee, the Native American facilitator for the district, said the spelling bee is part of an effort by Navajo language teachers from kindergarten to 12th grade to revitalize the language.
"We encourage all the teachers to have their students compete," Lee said.Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 and firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @nsmithdt on Twitter.