From Navajo Nation to Union: Student hopes to teach others about their cultural identity

Publication Date

Baahh-Nazoshnnii Brown-Almaweri ’17 is familiar with the myriad issues facing young people of the Navajo Nation.

The largest Native American territory in the country, the Navajo Nation sprawls across nearly 28,000 square miles and three states: Northwestern New Mexico, Northeastern Arizona and a small part of Utah.

It’s a tribal community where teenage pregnancy, alcoholism, suicide and illness rates eclipse many urban or rural areas.

It’s also a place where many have been stripped of their cultural identity because of forced assimilation by state-run public schools.

Brown-Almaweri wants to change that.

Born on the reservation and raised in Oakland, Calif., she spent her childhood attending cultural programs to get an understanding of her Navajo culture and identity.

Brown-Almaweri is the latest Union student to win a Kathryn Wasserman Davis Projects for Peace award.

Now in its 11th year, the Davis Projects for Peace is an invitation to undergraduates to design grassroots projects that they will implement during the summer. The objective is to encourage and support today's motivated youth to create and try out their ideas for building peace. Each project is funded with a $10,000 grant.

Brown-Almaweri has designed a four-week afterschool program where students ages 11-18 will learn about healthy eating habits, positive body image, Mother Earth and living traditions. She hopes to help the Diné students (“Di Nay,” the name for the Navajo people) progress from a history of surviving to a future of thriving.

“Diné youth are in need of a creative outlet or space that will enable them to evaluate their environment and then promote peace within the community,” she wrote in her proposal, “and learn to affirm their cultural identity and live healthy lifestyles.”

Baahh-Nazoshnnii Brown-Almaweri ’17

Major: Organizing Theme (mechanical engineering, studio fine arts and mathematics)

Minor: French and Francophone studies

Project title: Learning to Thrive as a Nation

Description: “This program will be organized into an afterschool program hosted at Ganado Middle School in Arizona’s Apache country. Students will participate in the program daily for one hour with the exception of a two-hour workshop held once a week. In addition to learning about healthy living habits, youth will pick up a camera or pen to document the growing narrative of the Diné people. Students will be able to research online and share their stories with the use of technology as a means of promoting peace by challenging stigmas and statistics. Laptops, cameras, voice recorders and journals will all be used to document the four-week program and the individual student’s progress. This project proposal is connected to my narrative as well. I was born on the Navajo reservation and raised in the urban city of Oakland, Calif. I spent most of my youth attending cultural programs as a way of understanding my Navajo culture and identity. My experience with talking circles is what empowered me and helped me become more confident in my ability to create change within my communities, both Oakland and the Navajo Reservation. Now as a senior at Union College, I would like to provide the same space and resources to students that want to make a change, as well.”

To learn more about the Kathryn Wasserman Davis Projects for Peace award, click here.