Farmington Continuing to develop strong leadership roles was one of the key messages delivered Friday at the Navajo and Minority Women Roundtable.

This was the second roundtable organized by New Mexico Public Regulatory Commission chairwoman Theresa Becenti-Aguilar.

Becenti-Aguilar developed the event to bring together talented Navajo and minority women to network and collaborate on addressing issues in the community.

Commissioners are also encouraged to host town hall meetings to reach their constituents, she said.

The women on Friday talked about developing a sense of community, government, education and the environment.

Jennifer Rose Denetdale, associate professor of American studies at University of New Mexico, stands in a room on Friday during the Navajo and Minority
Jennifer Rose Denetdale, associate professor of American studies at University of New Mexico, stands in a room on Friday during the Navajo and Minority Women Roundtable discussion at San Juan College in Farmington. (Megan Farmer / The Daily Times)

Tashina Machain traveled to the roundtable from Tucson, Ariz., where she lives and works at a nonprofit health education center.

Machain said when she was studying for a health career at the University of Arizona she had difficulty finding Navajo women role models until she changed her major to women's studies.

Now working at the nonprofit, she shares those role models she learned about and the new ones she finds with her students.

"I heard about this, and I was really excited," Machain said. "Coming here and hearing all you guys, to me is emotional."

Farmington resident Christina Morris brought up the issue of institutional racism, which is a system of inequality based on race.

She said that when it comes to health, a person's job, education level and place of residency affects their physical and emotional health because the individual has to work through the system to overcome issues.

Since moving to San Juan County, Morris has noticed the issue of racism is not addressed, but it does affect people.

But this type of event can tackle that issue and improve the community, she said.

"You are breaking those glass ceilings," Morris said.

As part of the event, the women listened to a presentation by Jennifer Denetdale, a professor of American studies at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque.

Denetdale spoke about the leadership role Navajo women continue to have in shaping history, as well as how they are incorporated in traditional stories.

In her study of written and oral Navajo history, Denetdale learned that when the Navajo people were held at Bosque Redondo, women influenced the negotiations of the Treaty of 1868. She said women delivered a message to the male Navajo leaders that the Navajo people will not be sent to Oklahoma and will not give up on the homeland.

She also talked about the argument that women cannot be elected leaders, especially president of the Navajo Nation, which was brought to the forefront in the 2006 and 2010 tribal elections.

"We cannot use tradition as an excuse to practice discrimination against Navajo women," Denetdale said.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 and nsmith@daily-times.com. Follow her on Twitter @nsmithdt on Twitter.