CCSD classes help students learn to cook Navajo foods

Noel Lyn Smith
Farmington Daily Times

KIRTLAND — The blue corn pancake batter sizzled when Alyssa Begaye-Salazar poured it into the frying pan.

It was the first time Begaye-Salazar made blue corn pancakes, and she learned about it in a cooking class offered this month by the Central Consolidated School District Cultural Heritage Department.

The classes were open to students from first to 12th grade attending schools in the district.

Begaye-Salazar, a senior at Kirtland Central High School, came to the class with her younger sisters, ages 8 and 15, because they wanted to learn more about Navajo culture.

"I think our culture is slowly dissolving. New technology is coming in and it's like we're paying more attention to what's new instead of what was in the past. I think what we have been doing in this class is helpful. It's helping kids learn about their history," she said.

Navajo bilingual teachers Veda Glover and Regina Begay lead the class on the evening of Oct. 23 at Judy Nelson Elementary School in Kirtland.

Students play with blue corn pancake mix at Judy Nelson Elementary School in Kirtland on Oct. 23, 2019.

Glover, who teaches at Judy Nelson, said each class offered the opportunity to cook traditional foods as well as enhancing lessons from school, such as using math to measure ingredients and learning how to pronounce Navajo words.

"We want them to get excited about cooking traditional foods," she said adding that participants learned how to make blue corn frybread, blue corn mush and Hopi piki bread in previous classes.

They receive written instructions for making the meals at home and are encouraged to teach their parents the lessons too, Glover added.

As students were making the pancake batter, they paused to say in the Navajo language the terms for salt ('áshiih), flour ('ak'áán), lard ('ak'ah) and baking powder (bił'é'él'ín).

"To me, it's exciting to see them get involved and along with that, to teach how to say things in Navajo," Begay said.

Glover and Begay, who teaches at Kirtland Elementary School, go beyond the cooking lessons and talk about the connection the food has with Navajo culture.

"This is the Navajo whisk," Glover said while holding the ádístsíín, which are sticks bundled together and used to mix ingredients.

Begay added that the only time the ádístsíín is made is when a girl is having her kinaaldá, the womanhood ceremony.

Eugena Daniels, the mother of students Leah, and Ryleigh Daniels, shows her daughter how to properly mix blue corn pancake batter at Judy Nelson Elementary School in Kirtland on Oct. 23, 2019.

They also explained that Navajo women traditionally store the ádístsíín in the kitchen to ward off hunger and starvation.

"The hunger is scared of this and you'll always have food in your house," Begay said.

Barbara Peabody brought her eight-year-old granddaughter, Kyliah Julg, to the class because it is a unique way to learn about Navajo culture.

"I never made this. My mom never taught me. She was always working," Peabody said adding her mother did not learn about Navajo traditions because she was raised in the Christian faith.

Filling that gap in cultural knowledge and understanding is the reason Peabody supports Julg's participation in the class.

"It makes my spirit feel good, because I tell her that you should never be ashamed of your culture and where you come from," Peabody said.

Berlinda Begay, director for the district's Cultural Heritage Department, said the goal is twofold: teach students how to cook and sustain aspects of Navajo culture.

Blue corn pancake mix at Judy Nelson Elementary School in Kirtland on Oct. 23, 2019.

The classes held in October took place at Judy Nelson in addition to Eva B. Stokely Elementary School and Tsé Bit'a'í Middle School, both located in Shiprock.

The next set of classes will focus on sewing. Those are scheduled from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. on Nov. 4, 6, 18 and 20. The locations are Judy Nelson, Eva B. Stokely, Tsé Bit'a'í and Naschitti Elementary School in Naschitti.

For more information, contact the CCSD Cultural Heritage Department at 505-368-5175 or visit the district website at

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 or by email at

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