SHIPROCK — Various perspectives  were shared today at a forum featuring five panelists who shared their experiences during the "Education is Our Human Right" forum at the Phil L. Thomas Performing Arts Center.

"The purpose of this forum is to encourage educators, students and community members to discuss challenges and form opinions and values through open-minded discussion and interactive participation," said forum moderator John Tohtsoni Jr.

Tohtsoni also shared the United Nations definition of human rights, which includes the right to work and to become educated. The UN states human rights are rights inherent to all human beings, regardless of race, sex, nationality, ethnicity, language, religion or any other status.

Andrea Thomas described the roundabout path she took to becoming a teacher at Mesa Elementary School in Shiprock.

Thomas attended schools on and off the Navajo Nation, including those located in Phoenix.

Whenever she went to school in Phoenix, she found herself behind academically because of discrepancies between the education systems.

"As I started to learn more about education, I started to understand how those disconnects were detrimental to my educational experience. It's not an excuse but it hurt me," she said.

Because of her experience she has become an advocate for students to receive quality education on the reservation. Among her actions are networking with teachers across the state and developing new teaching practices that fit classrooms on tribal lands.

"I think students in this area deserve to be looked at and to be seen as people who are successful and have potential," Thomas said.

Al Henderson, secretary-treasurer for Dineh Chamber of Commerce, talked about the concept of human capital and how an individual’s skills and knowledge contribute to a community’s economy.

He also talked about how education must evolve to fit the Four Corners area's economic transition from energy based to new commercial opportunities.

"I have yet to see an institution that really looks at the future and sees what kind of occupational skills are going to be available five, 10 years down the road," Henderson said.

The forum was sponsored by Navajo Preparatory School and organized by longtime educator Betty Ojaye.

Ojaye, who retired last year as head of school for Navajo Prep, said proceeds from the forum will go to the school's Nááts'íílid Scholarship Fund.

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

Read or Share this story: