“Béédaałniih: Diné bizaad bídahwiil’aah. Táadoo biligáana k’ehjí yádaalłti’í. Ahéhee’.”
These are the first words that visitors see on a sign at the entrance of Tsé Hootsooí Diné Bi’ Olta’, an elementary immersion school that teaches the Navajo language to its 133 students on the capital of the Navajo Nation.
In English, the sign means, “Remember: We are learning in Diné. Please leave your English outside. Thank you.”
Visitors coming to the school also see trophies. Lots of them. Two full trophy displays line the halls near the entrance and even more trophies sit on top of bookshelves in the library, or naaltsoos bá hooghan, as students and teachers call it.
These trophies are awards that Diné Bi’ Olta’ students have won since the school opened its doors in 2004. Schools on the Navajo reservation compete in annual cultural competitions that include pow wow dancing, singing, Navajo spelling bees and science fairs. Many are Diné Bi’ Olta’ students who have showcased their knowledge of Navajo language and culture, earning the school a reputation well enough to feature previous students in the Navajo-dubbed version of Pixar’s “Finding Nemo,” or “Nemo Hádéést’į́į́.”
“The Navajo language and culture are the backbone of the school,” said Audra Platero, the school’s principal for the past four years. “What continues to make Diné Bi’ Olta’ unique is the fact that we’re a public school. Our teachers are trained and certified to teach Navajo language… and students are exposed to it everyday.”
Read more: Navajo-Hopi Observer