This dissertation explores how historical changes in education shaped Diné collective identity and community by examining the interconnections between Navajo students, their people, and Diné Bikéyah (Navajo lands). Farina King investigates the ongoing influence of various schools as colonial institutions among the Navajo from the 1930s to 1990 in the southwestern United States. The question that guides this research is how institutional schools, whether far, near, or on the reservation, affected Navajo students’ sense of home and relationships with their Indigenous community during the twentieth century.
The study relies on a Diné historical framework that centers on a Navajo mapping of the world and earth memory compass. The four directions of their sacred mountains orient the Diné towards hózhǫ́, the ideal of society, a desirable state of being that most translate as beauty, harmony, or happiness. Their sacred mountains mark Diné Bikéyah and provide an earth memory compass in Navajo life journeys that direct them from East, to South, to West, and to North. These four directions and the symbols associated with them guide this overarching narrative of Navajo educational experiences from the beginning of Diné learning in their home communities, to the adolescent stages of their institutionalized schooling, to the recent maturity of hybrid Navajo-American educational systems. After addressing the Diné ancestral teachings of the East, King focuses on the student experiences of interwar Crownpoint Boarding School to the South, the postwar Tuba City Boarding School and Leupp Boarding School to the West, and self-determination in Monument Valley to the North.
This study primarily analyzes oral histories and cultural historical methodologies to feature Diné perspectives, which reveal how the land and the mountains serve as focal points of Navajo worldviews. The land defines Diné identity, although many Navajos have adapted to different life pathways. Therefore, land, environment, and nature constituted integral parts and embeddedness of Diné knowledge and epistemology that external educational systems, such as federal schools, failed to overcome in the twentieth century.