Navajo Mothers and Daughters: Schools, Jobs, and the Family

by Frank Margonis, Donna Deyhle
Navajo Mothers and Daughters: Schools, Jobs, and the Family
Frank Margonis, Donna Deyhle
Anthropology & Education Quarterly
Start Page: 
End Page: 
Select license: 
Select License


Nava'o Mothers and Daughters: Schools, Jobs, and t he Family


University of Utah

Navajo women's historically problem tic relation to public schools might be best understood by considering the role that matrilineal networks play in giving Navajo women a place of respect as mothers and daughters- life course to which schools contribute little. Navajo women's commitment to cooperative family relations is sharply at odds with contemporary educational practice and much educational thought, which assumes the desirability of an individualistic lifestyle and is devoted to helping students adopt a middle-class orientation. AMERlCAN INDIAN EDUCATION, NAVAJO WOMEN, JOBS AND


It was a warm, summer day when Lucy and Maxine stopped by Deyhle's house for the interview.' Deyhle had known them for almost seven years. Lucy was completing a master's degree in entomology. She worked at the Navajo Agricultural Project, where she was conducting a study on an insect repellent that corn emits. She was a single mother of two, splitting her time between the college town, where her daughter lived with her ex-husband, and her mother's house on the reservation, where her young son was living. After working for five years as an administrator for the Head Start program, Maxine was living with her two children on the reservation at her mother's home, working on a master's degree in education. They sat on the porch, watching the steady stream of tourists drive curiously through the little border-reservation town, and talked about the role of Navajo women, sex, love, and ro- mance. At one point, explaining the position that Navajo women have in their society, they laughed and said, "If you really want to tell people about Navajo women, what's different about us, you need to tell them the vagina story. It is in the creation stories; the Dine bahane' book is where you can find it. Tell them that.'12 This is the story they asked to be told.

Altse hastiin the First Man became a great hunter in the fourth world. So he was able to provide his wife Altse asdzaa the First Woman with plenty to eat. As a result, she grew very fat. Now one day he brought home a fine, fleshy deer. His wife boiled some of it, and together they had themselves a hearty meal. When she had finished eating,Altse asdzua the First Woman wiped her greasy hands on her sheath. She belched deeply. And she had this to say:

Anthropology 6 Education Quarterly 26(2):135-167. Copyright O 1995, American Anthropological Association.

'Thank you shijoozh my vagina," she said, 'Thank you for that delicious


To which Altse hastiin the First Man replied this way: "Why do you say that?"

he replied. 'Why not thank me? Was it not I who killed the deer whose flesh

you have just feasted on? Was it not I who carried it here for you to eat? Was

it not I who skinned it? Who made it ready for you to boil? Is nijoozh your

vagina the great hunter, that you should thank it and not me?"

To which Altseasdzaa offered thisanswer: "As a matter of fact, she is," offered

she. "In a manner of speaking it is joosh the vagina who hunts. Were it not for

joosh you would not have killed that deer. Were it not for her you would not

have carried it here. You would not have skinned it. You lazy men would do

nothing around here were it not for joosh. In truth joosh the vagina does all the

work around here." [Zolbrod 198458-591

As this story of First Woman and First Man in the Navajo creation stories suggests, Navajo women's positions in their cosmology and social landscape contrast sharply with the positions of women who are born into and reared in a patriarchal society. Navajo culture places women at the foundation of their society, as the guardians of strong family network^.^ This essay draws upon Deyhle's study of Navajo school experiences, as well as her own relationships with daughters and their mothers in one reservation community, in an effort to better understand Navajo women's relations to schools. In this community, understanding Navajo women's relations to schools depends upon a prior understanding of matrilineal networks in the social and economic life on the reservation, for the family networks shape the decisions and aspirations of Navajo women in profound ways. Women especially are promised a secure place. Young women enjoy solid relations with their mothers, look forward to inheriting the family home and sheep, and generally look forward to raising children on the reservation. School is often considered irrelevant to this life plan. Many Navajo women believe in its importance but do not display significant commitment to it. A combination of Navajo commitment to family and the presence of discrimination in the Anglodominated schools and economy ensure that many Navajo people do not adopt the middle-class strategy of pursuing individual mobility via schooling.

Educational theories, which might be used to better understand Navajo women's relations to schools, commonly involve the middle- class assumptions that at present ensure the insensitivity of schools to Navajo women's lives. Explicitly or implicitly taking the upwardly mobile individual as their guiding ideal, educational discussions pro- duce analyses that stand in sharp contrast to the familial orientation of Navajo women. By comparing the lives of Navajo women in one com- munity to prominent educational perspectives-policy analyses of "at- risk students, Ogbu's theory of involuntary minorities, and feminist reproduction theories-we hope to move toward a better understanding of Navajo women's relations to schools and toward an understanding of middle-class biases in educational discourse.

Navajo Women: The Social and Historical Landscape of a Matriarchy

The egalitarian relations between Navajo women and men was rec- ognized in early accounts of the Navajos by Anglos. These accounts included the cultural patterns that positioned women at the core of Navajo religion and on an equal footing with men in agriculture pur- suits, childrearing, religion, and political activities. Early accounts also recognized the prevailing social organization of Navajo society that required a man to move into his wife's mother's home after marriage; that gave women heritage rights to homes and livestock; and that had a ceremony to celebrate the centrality of women in Navajo culture.

In 1846 Robison wrote, "The women of this tibe seem to have equal rights with the men, managing their own business and trading as they see fit, saddling their own horses, and letting their husbands saddle theirs.. .. [Tlhe women are treated by the men as equals" (Roessel 1981:14). And in 1944 Watkins wrote, 'The building of the home was man's work, but the dwelling became the property of the wife when completed. Agriculture was shared by both men and women.. . . The herds of sheep from which the Navajo obtained their livelihood were under the supervision of women and children. Both men and women shared in the raising and education of children. There was no place in the Navajo tribe from which women were barred" (19M33).

This social position was also supported by the place of Navajo women in Navajo religion. Navajo women hold a prominent role in the practice of their religious beliefs. "In religious matters the woman has privileges similar to the men. There is no ceremony or part of one which she may not learn if she has the ability. . . . In the Navajo tribe restrictions upon achievement are never made on the basis of sex but only on the basis of ability" (Reichard 1928:52-54). Kluckhohnand Leighton, writing during the 1940s, summed up the position of women in Navajo culture:

Their ownership of property, the system of tracing lineage through the female, the prevailing pattern of residence with the wife's people, the fact that more women than men have a ready and continual source of extra income (through their weaving), all give womena strategic advantage. Such situational circum- stances are reinforced by mythology and folklore. The oft-repeated songs of Blessing Way drum in the conception that woman is supreme in the hogan. The east pole is that of Earth Woman, the south that of Mountain Woman, the west that of Water Woman, and the north that of Corn Woman. The fact that some of the most powerful and important divinities (Changing Woman, Spider Woman, Salt Woman) are female speaks volumes for the high place of women in the traditional conceptions of The People. [1974:102]

While the traditional political organization of the Navajo has changed to incorporate some components of the dominant society, Navajo women have retained a strong voice in tribal government. Although the governing body of the Navajo Nation is almost 90 percent male, at a local-chapter house meeting women accounted for over 70 percent of the motions from the floor (Roessel 1981:133). Navajo women have historically held a position equal to men, and this position is affirmed by both core religious beliefs and the practices of contemporary families. This was acknowledged by the president of the Navajo Nation, Peterson Zah, who told Hillary Clinton during the election campaign to come to the reservation, where women are respected.

Although changing economic and social situations, including the patriarchal influences of Anglo society, have resulted in challenges to the position women hold in Navajo society, the core social structure of the importance of women and the primacy of the family in Navajo culture remains unchanged. As Lamphere wrote in 1974, "Among the Navajos domestic and political spheres are relatively undifferentiated and most critical decisions are taken within the domestic group rather than in a wider political arena. Authority within the domestic group is egalitarian, with the emphasis on individual autonomy. Under these conditions, Navajo women have a great deal of control over their lives" (1974:103). Writing almost 20 years later, Lamphere's later (1990) re- search again affirmed the importance of women in Navajo social, politi- cal, and economic spheres. But as she illustrated, a changing economy has created regonal variability in Navajo women's situations across the Navajo reservation. Navajo women's experiences in the past and present do not represent "one thing." Women develop different strateges to gain cash income, to link with other women in resource networks, and to cope with dependency on cash incomes or labor from husbands and sons. What follows in this article are the experiences, beliefs, and strate- gies that Navajo mothers, daughters, and families in one Navajo com- munity use as they navigate through their lives.

"You Must Go Forward, My Daughter, into Your Place as a Navajo Woman"

Young Navajo girls are born into a matriarchy that provides not only their names but also their "place" of power as future matriarchs. Moth- ers and daughters share a place at the core of Navajo culture. As Ruth Roessel, a Navajo educator and author explained:

The Navajos have always said that, as long as they have cornfields and Kinaalda, they have nothing to worry about. These two elements of Navajo life remainin the position of vital importance, and inbothelements the women play the primary role. The cornfield, with its fertility and growth, and the Kinaalda ceremony, with its recognition of the coming of age of the Navajo girl to womanhood, combine to focus on the cycle of reproduction, without which there can be no food and no people. [1981:105]*

Cornfields dot the landscape, and almost all of the young women in Deyhle's study had Kinaalda. Kinaalda, a four-day ceremony to cele- brate a Navajo girl's first menstruation, is the ritual ushering her into

adult life within the community. Following the example set by Changing Woman in the creation story, the ceremony's purpose is to impart the moral and intellectual strength that she will need now that she herself can create new life and continue Navajo culture. Kinaalda, as one moment in a young woman's life, illustrates the transition to adulthood in Navajo culture, a transition that ensures the continuity and expansion of matrilineal networks in the community. One young woman ex- plained, "My mom won't let anybody go out without one. My mom says if you get one you are an okay lady. On my aunt's side, they didn't do any of those. They're just running around out there somewhere." Her sister laughed, "White people try to hide it. We celebrate it. It is wom- anhood. And everything."

Young women are lectured to and prayed on during the ceremony about appropriate values and behaviors that will enable them to success- fully take their place in the community. Unless these lessons are af- firmed, it is feared that the young woman will be isolated or "running around out there somewhere." Undesirable traits, such as laziness, stinginess, and meanness are discouraged. Cooperative traits, such as being helpful and caring for others are encouraged. Positive physical attributes, such as good teeth, a straight back, a tall build, strong legs, and long hair, are discussed as the Navajo believe the girl's bones are soft and what she does during the ceremony will influence her health. Throughout ths ceremony the ideal of the sociable, healthy, cooperative Navajo is explicitly communicated to these pubescent girls. Unlike in Anglo society, where adolescence is viewed as establishing the auton- omy of the individual, Kinaalda serves to formalize young Navajo women's commitment and obligation to the family and community.

This sense of family commitment was illustrated at the Kinaalda of Sally, Linda's niece. During the last day of the threeday ceremony, almost 50 family members gathered at her home. Prominent at the ceremony were Sally's female relatives. Frequently by her side, they gave instructions, encouragement, and advice about proper ways to live her life. The men worked in a group, digging the four-by-four-foot hole for the blue corn cake and talking about livestock, grazing permits, and the shut down of the uranium plant. Women gathered around the outdoor cooking fire, turning the sheep ribs and stirring the corn stew, as family stories and local political events were discussed. Children ran laughing in and out of the house, chasing the family dogs and stray chickens. Later, inside the hogan, Sally, her mother, grandmother, four aunts, women friends of the family, and a medicine man prepared for the ceremony. Sally's long hair was washed in yucca suds (said to strengthen and lengthen her hair), and she was dressed in a handwoven traditional Navajo dress with buckskin leggings. Meanwhile the women took turns grinding the blue corn for the cake. Soft whispers among the women spoke of children, jobs, crops, the weather, and the ceremony.

Occasionally, voices rose and teasing comments were directed toward Sally, particularly when a story or event depicted un-Navajo behavior.

All sank comfortably against the hogan's circular walls as the evening approached. Near midnight Sally was laid on a blanket of Navajo and Penelton rugs. Her female relatives "stretched her body with a weaving baton, as they prayed for her increased size, health, and well-being. "You must go forward, my daughter," spoke her mother, "into your place as a Navajo woman." For the rest of the night, withsally sitting in the center of the hogan, the medicine man continued the ceremony, singing, pray- ing for her strength and well-being, and admonishing her to follow appropriate Navajo ways. As dawn approached, relatives gathered outside the hogan to recognize and support her emergence as a woman. Sally stepped from the hogan and, with young cousins following and relatives cheering, ran across the mesa into the rising sun. She ran in all four directions and returned into the arms of her family. The cake, which had been baking overnight, was uncovered and cut to share among all present. Video cameras captured the emergence of the cake, Sally's first piece, and the smiles and hugs of relatives. As her niece's ceremony ended, holding her own granddaughters, Linda said softly, "Ihope they have one. That makes them become a woman. Bless them with a good spirit. How to become a woman. How to stand up." Young Navajo men do not have a similar ceremony.

"In the Traditional Way and Now, the Family Is the Most Important Thing You Can Do"

Sally was being prepared to take her place within matrilineal net- works that are central in a portrait of the Navajo community. She joins a system of extended families in which generations of women living together provide emotional, social, and economic support, as well as control, for each other and their families. These networks create a web that often governs the judgment or choice of partners based on a male's labor or contributions to the family. Love or individual whims are often subordinated by considerations concerning the extended family. Moth- ers and daughters are in a unique position of strength because, when a Navajo man marries, he leaves his mother's home and moves in with his wife's family. Although this pattern has changed for young couples who choose to live off the reservation, it is a consistent pattern for the young women in Deyhle's study. For a family with daughters, the possibility of an increased labor pool occurs when husbands or boyfriends move in with their daughters. Mothers question a daughter's choice of a partner not in terms of the man's love, attractiveness, or intelligence, but prag- matically on his ability to contribute to the household. Extended family networks are critical for economic survival on the reservation.

Such was the case for the Begay family. Joe and Linda lived on the reservation, 22 miles from a small border town, in a complex that included a new pink doublewide three-bedroom trailer house that housed three daughters, two sons, twograndchildren, and the husband of their oldest daughter, Jan. A modern-styled hogan next to the trailer was the home of another daughter, Val, her three children, and her second husband. Within this family, husbands and boyfriends are judged critically on their contribution to the group. When Jan's boy- friend, Jed, moved into the family trailer, Linda said, "Jan's boyfriend, he is real smart. Real brains. But I ask my daughter, 'Is he going to be able to cut wood for me? What kind of a son-in-law is he going to be?' " Jed was pleasing to his mother-in-law, although this was not without frustration on his part. "I am the wood hauler, battery and generator fixer, water hauler, baby sitter, cook, and dishwasher. Those are easy; it's being a good husband that is hard." After the birth of their second child, Jed wanted to continue his schooling in order to qualify for professional-level work in a city. The family decided that, if he went to the city, he would go alone. "We told him he would leave my daughter and the children here. It is his job to stay here with his family, not to go to the city for some kind of job. We decided that." At the same time there was pressure on their oldest son, who was seeing a young woman from another part of the reservation and considering moving in with her family. "We told him not to go. We wonder about if she is a traditional Navajo. We need hm, and we don't want to lose him to her family."

Matrilineal networks serve as a framework for what is important in the social landscape surrounding young Navajo women. Mothers and daughters living together create a collective front in their interactions with men. Mothers discourage their daughters from looking to men for support. "It is not so much important that you find a man to have them support you anymore with everything going on these days. Like I tell Val and Jan, don't ever depend on a man to support you or be dependent on him. You never know when they might leave you." Men are seen in fluid terms; they are a desired part of the family, but the dependable foundation remains in the hands of the women. Men cannot count upon an ideology of romance to enhance their status. Romance is not privi- leged over sex. Sex is not confused with romance. Maxine explained, "I don't know about romance. I guess you could, what you could consider an ideal romance, just being practical or realistic about things." She reflected on her mother's advice, "My mom would always say, when we were growing up it was like, 'Stay away from them. They are no good,' or that sort of thing is what we were told. That they were only after one thing. We were told that you didn't wrestle with boys or your brothers, and I figured they meant that led up to other things, so you stayed away from them." After watching her older sisters have children, Linda's youngest daughter had learned the lesson early, "I have learned about men. All they want is sex. That's all they care about." This lesson is carried into schools. In high school dating is viewed as a sexual, rather than romantic, activity. "We don't date. It is like when you date you get a bad reputation: they call you a whore or a slut. Like a white girl can date and go out with different guys. But for us Navajo, when you date it means you are having sex."5

Many Navajo women start families at a young age. Matrilineal net- works provide for both the daughter and her children. A legally com- mitted relationship is not a prerequisite for having children. This county ranks as the state's highest "out of wedlock births" location. Although mothers desire a traditional Navajo wedding for their daughters, for- malized marriage is somewhat unimportant. To Navajos the external status of marriage (represented by a legal document) is secondary to the internal status (represented by the health) of the family. Jan and Jed exchanged wedding rings but were not legally married. Val did not marry either of the fathers of her children. Many of the older generation of mothers are themselves informally married. When the need arises, such as requirements for veteran or I-IUD housing loans, legal marriages are arranged. After 22 years together, Joe and Linda got married last year. "I told Joe that, if we try to get a loan from the Veterans Admini- stration for the house, we are going to have to get married legally. We never did it before. But I told him, 'You need to kiss the bride.' Look, we have kids and grandkids to show that we are married!"

Central to the status of the family is the addition of new children-the sign of a healthy, growing family. Traditional Navajos counted their wealth by the number of children they had, far more than by the amount of money they had, and large families are still a desired goal. Abortion or adoption is unacceptable. Babies are welcome into the family regard- less of the increased strain on poverty-level incomes. Mothers, aunts, or grandmothers are available to care for the new baby. When Carol's daughter had her first baby, she expressed some initial reluctance. "I'm going to be a grandmother too soon! But we will care for the baby. My other kids are real excited about the new baby. WithusNavajo, we don't give babies away. We keep them in the family. There is always a place for another baby in a family." Although some parents express embar- rassment when their teenage daughter becomes pregnant, there is un- equivocal joy and acceptance of the new baby. When Linda found out about Val's pregnancy, she exclaimed, "I'm going to be a grandmother. I'm too young to be a grandmother!" But Linda quickly accepted her daughter's pregnancy, and over the next eight months prepared for the birth of her first grandchild. She gave her daughter advice and support, helped her with her diet, and helped gather baby blankets and clothes. The excitement of the entire family was evident in endless talk about names for the baby.

TheNavajo community does not punish a young woman who chooses to have a partner or bear children before completing high school or who drops out of school. Joe and Linda encouraged Val to remain in school, and Linda prepared to assume child-care responsibilities for the baby while her daughter finished school. Her mother explained, "Some said Val should just drop out of school, now that she was a mother, and take care of her child. That school was not important for her now. But Joe and I both said that you never know what will happen, and school is still important for her." While Linda and Carol would have preferred for their daughters to postpone chldbirth until they had finished school and to have found men with whom they wanted to share their lives, their success in creating new life and their new social position in Navajo culture overshadowed other considerations.

Today, young women face contrary messages about pursuing an education or pursing a family. Young women who delay motherhood for an education face the tension of being "outside" the lives of most of their peers who had children after high school. On the one hand, Anglo values opposed to teenage pregnancy are shared by some Navajos. But on the other hand, motherhood offers young women a place within matrilineal networks. Maxine's daughter faces this dilemma. "It [teen- age pregnancy] is kinda looked down on now. Sometime back, it wasn't; the baby-the newborn-was really important. . . . That is what is hap- pening to a lot of Melanie's friends right now. A lot of them are married now and have two kids already. She makes me laugh sometimes because she says, 'Mom, I'm getting left behind.' "Creating new life is extremely valued, and at the same time it reaffirms a women's place inNavajo life. As one graduating senior explained, "I really want a baby of my own. I would be really happy, then, at home with my baby. That's what us Navajo do." She now has two chldren and is living at her mother's house on the reservation.

Navajo young women spoke of their future dreams and goals as the end of high school approached. In these visions, families and jobs were intertwined. The decision to leave their homes to move into a husband's home or to leave their homes for a career were not primary dilemmas facing these young women. They did not face a situation of being "pushed out" to start their adult life with either a husband or a job; they faced a family network that desired them to remain with the family, to "stay in," as they assumed mothering roles and sought local eqloy- ment. Linda explained, 'We [ Navajo] don't kick our luds out of our house, like the bilaganna [white people] do." This is not without frustra- tion for some parents, whose sons and daughters have difficulty finding jobs and therefore increase the financial strain on the family. Linda also spoke of her daughters' difficulties finding jobs. "Maybe I should be like the bilaganna. If I had kicked them out, they might have better jobs now." She cares for five grandchldren while her daughters work in border towns during the week and return home on the weekends.

Although economic hardships exist, most Navajo parents want their children to stay at home, and ths residency pattern gives support for young mothers and for the extended families. Remaining "in" as op- posed to moving "out" is a pressure (and for young women a security) felt by young adults. A relative of Joe and Linda explained, "So the kids get married. Along the way they have a problem. One of them wants to advance. One of them resists. Stay at home. So they want to stay home. I see a lot of that. The parents-kay, they are hanging onto their daughters and sons. 'Don't go over there. Look at me. I've got sheep and livestock. My land is here. I've got everything here for you guys. When I pass it off, you guys get it. I've got livestock, house.' They [youth] end up back to their home. They [parents] don't want them to go out there."

Navajo parents want to expand rather than lose family members, and this is clearly understood by their children. Shirley, a recent graduate explained, "My mother kind of held me back. My sister left, and she felt one daughter away was enough." Social, as well as economic, reasons were central to Shirley's parents' reasoning. "I think they see only what they want to see. They want to see us become what they want. They don't really give us a choice of what we want to become. It was always something like, 'Oh, you could go to business school. Local business school. You could come back and help us with money and stuff.' " Few Navajo young women resist their parents' desires. Over 70 percent of the high school graduates chose to remain with their families on the reservation. This choice positions young Navajo women securely amid familial and economic networks.

"l've Always Told Myself I Was Going to Finish School. So I Could Get On with My Life."

Young Navajo women face a school that they see as having little connection to their lives. Almost half will drop out of school. Within some groups of friends, educational success is even more elusive. "There were seven of us. From preschool all the way through high school. And only two of us graduated. One just dropped out and four had kids," explained Jan's cousin. With or without a high school diploma, over two-thirds will continue to live their lives in their homes on the reserva- tion. Less than half a percent will finish a college degree. For most of these young women, matrilineal networks, which provide a successful place in life on the reservation, play the role that schools do not. For others, however, matrilineal networks play a supportive role for school success.

Both success and failure come out of these networks. Lucy and Maxine "succeeded" via matrilineal networks, not in spite of them. Whereas many young women leave high school to have children, Lucy's and Maxine's networks were supportive of continuing school and profes- sional mobility. They chose to start their families before college, but with mothers to provide for the care of their children, they were able to move off the reservation to complete college degrees. Matrilineal networks provide a system of support for all of these women. In Anglo-dominated schools, however, these networks are ignored. Racial assumptions about Navajos form a school context that dismisses the viability of Navajo culture and that paternalistically decides that vocational training, re- quiring less academic skills, is "best" for Navajos. Most young women, not banlung on school leading anywhere anyway, accept this situation and pass through school as a short interruption in their lives.

Young women spoke of enjoying the social life in schools but ex- pressed half-hearted commitment to school success as benefiting their lives. Among those who dropped out, 44 percent did not see the impor- tance of school in relation to what they wanted to do in life. lhs ambivalence toward the connection between what was learned in school and their life out of school was also shared by successful graduates. "School is okay. It gives you something to do," said Jan. Jan enjoyed school. She had a large group of friends and was well liked by her teachers. One teacher said, "She is a good student, but she doesn't seem to have a direction. You look at her classes, and there is no career pattern. Auto mechanics, reading, computers." For Jan, the content of her courses was secondary to a pleasant social situation during school hours. "I have lots of friends; we take classes together, like basic reading. It's fun." She avoided classes that were "hard," specifically, advanced placement classes. "Those white kids don't like us.. . . I think that most of them think Navajos are disgusting. That is what I think." At the beginning of her senior year she exclaimed, "I'm just sick of school!" She wandered in and out of school during her senior year. She was suspended for truancy and was caught drinking during school, but she did not drop out. Preparing to graduate, she said, "I've always told myself I was going to finish school. So I could get on with my life." A friend said, "Get through high school. High school is important and all this. Just to get through. Then after that you can worry about what you want. You can do what you want after high school." School is not viewed as helping with individual life situations in the community. "It's okay. I like it. I just want to get over it. School is good just to know what's going on in the world." High school was often viewed as something to "get over" and was rarely seen as critical in these women's lives.

"lt's Still the lndians at the Back of the Bus. That's What They Think of Us."

Although time spent in school with friends was often pleasant, all young women spoke of the racial discrimination they experienced in schools. Racism was an ever-present force facing these young women in schools. Fights occurred every several months, but racial remarks were experienced daily. Anglo attitudes toward Navajo teenage mothers, for example, reveal racially framed feelings that confirmed the assumptions that either Navajo young women don't "deserve" schooling or that they are uninterested in an education. Racial lines were drawn sharply and maintained by administrators, teachers, and students. A vocationalized curriculum assured racial tracking in classes. Within racially mixed classes Navajos and Anglos avoided sitting together. The yearbook exemplified the "place" for Indians in the school. Jan and her friends were signing each other's yearbooks. "Look. Here on the first page is the homecoming queen." The full-page, glossy, color photograph showed a smiling blond wearing a crown and a pink formal. "Now look at us." She flipped to the last page of the yearbook. A matte, black-and-white photograph showed a smiling "Indian princess." "It's still the Indians at the back of the bus. That's what they thnk of us."

Young women leave school for a variety of reasons, including feelings of rejection from their teachers and racial hostilities in schools. But the primacy of family networks is at the core of many of these reasons. Over 45 percent said they left school because they had to work at home or a job. Expressing ambivalence toward school, 44 percent said that they did not see the importance of school in relation to what they wanted to do in life. Although 50 percent expressed difficulty with the academic work, specifically reading, they insisted that it did not influence their decision to leave school. Like Val, almost 40 percent of the women who dropped out of school did so because of pregnancy or to care for ~hildren.~ Ninety-five percent of the young women who left school stated their parents wanted and encouraged them to stay in school and graduate. Parental encouragement, however, was not enough. Although their motherhood was acccepted in their homes, it was unacceptable in school. Teenage pregnancy confirmed racial beliefs that Anglos held about Navajos, and these young mothers felt "pushed out" of school. Val left school in the middle of the year. She said, "The teachers, you know, they look at you differently. They know you have had a baby, and they stay away from you. I didn't like the way they looked at me." These feelings were echoed by others. Nadine's daughter, a young mother of two explained, "I thought about it for a month, and then I just said, well, I just wanted to stay home, and I did. That time I was pregnant again; so I decided just to stay home because if I go back to school, them kids [Anglos], they're really ignorant. They really start saying stuff to you. 'Oh, look at that girl. She's pregnant.' I didn't like that." Their counselor, shrugging his shoulders, said simply, "These Navajo girls get married young." Val, six years after she left school, still speaks of finishng her degree. "My mom went back; so I will too. Someday."

The overt racism that Navajo women faced in school was coupled with a curriculum that racially defined the education that they were to receive. As Jan's principal explained, "I'm not saying we should ignore the academic classes. But the vocational training is where the jobs are for the local Navajo people." Teacher, school administrators, and counsel- ors view young Navajo women's career goals as limited and vocational in nature. "The girls want to be nurses, dental assistants, secretaries," explained a counselor, "Their expectations for themselves are very low. There is very little interest in the professions." Patriarchal assumptions of "female" roles imposed a gendered path for these young women. Interviews with 35 young women preparing to graduate reveal that many of them in fact wanted the jobs that the counselor saw as male jobs. Like Jan, many of her peers did not view their occupational desires as being restricted because of their gender. Over one-third, 34 percent, said they wanted to become heavy-equipment operators or welders or to work in electronics. Only 17percent indicated that they sought secretar- ial, nursing, or cosmetology jobs. Over one-third, 34 percent, expressed desires for professional-level work in education, social work, architec- ture, and in the medical field. Regardless of these desires, very few young women move into any of these kinds of jobs. In fact, most openings that these young woman would encounter on the job market require little, if any, schooling.

Jan experienced a vocationalized curriculum in her school which assured her only limited occupational opportunities. The educational path constructed for hermoved her into an area that did not match her needs or desires. She had wanted to work in electronics or to become a heavy-equipment operator.. "My counselor said I should go into busi- ness. Take some accounting courses. But I want to do electronics. One of my friends is finishing electronics, and he is getting a job at the military base. For about eight dollars an hour." After graduation she attended the Southwest Indian Polytechnic Institute. "I left; my slulls were not good enough to do what I wanted, electronics." She attended the local community college for a year. "I wanted to take a break and get a job. . . . I like to be outside. They train for secretary, and nurse, business, marketing. They are inside. I don't really want to do any of those things." Over the next several years she worked at a uranium plant, at a nursing home, and as a clerk in a tribal office. She now works both as a maid and in the deli of a supermarket. Her high school credentials did not provide her with competitive professional-work-required skills, and she found herself working beside peers who had not completed high school.

High school graduates were three times more likely to be employed than nongraduates, although, as Jan's situation illustrates, almost with- out exception there was little difference in the kinds of jobs graduates and nongraduates landed. Specific academic skills learned at school were rarely mentioned as helping to secure employment-the diploma itself was the objective. In any case, these women did not attach their self-worth to the kind of jobs that they sought or got. Families also did not urge their children into specific kinds of careers. A frustrated coun- selor explained. "They don't think to the future. They just want a job. . . . And our values are that the job is connected to self-concept. . . . [Their] object is the money, not the self-image you get from a certain kind of job. The job is a means to get money. That is all." In this community, schools, which do expand employment opportunities, be- come the avenue through which youth serve family needs.

A high school diploma or college degree does enhance a young woman's position in the community. A recent graduate said, ''They [Navajo] respect me. Like they say, I finished high school, and we were living together and everything. Most of the girls that do that just stay home and don't finish school. But I finished school. They respect that." Lucy and Maxine both completed college and are now in graduate school. They spoke of the encouragement that their mothers and family provided them in their struggles. Grandparents provided child care during the year. At the same time they spoke of the joy and comfort that their families felt when they returned home from school or from jobs in distant cities, and the pressure to stay home. Educational success is not viewed as a route for individual mobility, as in Anglo society, but rather as an investment for the community and family. Christine, a recent college graduate explained:

My dad has always wanted me to go on to pursue either medicine or law or something. Something where an impact would be felt in the community. . . . I think the community realizes the importance of an education and going on to get your education will not only help the individual but will help the community itself. So it's an investment in the community, and I think that's how they see it.

"But There Aren't Many Jobs; So You Take What You Can Get."

Most Navajo women want jobs in the community. Women who have higher degrees, like Lucy and Maxine, land the few professional jobs available. In this racially polarized community Anglos control most of the jobs and construct a job ceiling that drastically limits Navajo women's access to managerial- and professional-level work. The unem- ployment rate of Navajos is 41 percent, over four times the unemploy- ment rate for Anglos. Following 537 young women over the last decade reveals an unemployment rate of 67 percent. Only 27 percent of these young women are employed. The most optimistic analysis places one out of every four women in a full-time job. Even though Anglos and Navajos have equal numbers in the community, over 90 percent of officials and managers jobs are held by Anglos. Over 85 percent of the teaching positions are held by Anglos. Only one school principal, a man, is Navajo. Other than secretaries, there are no Navajo women in the school administration. Given this racially defined job ceiling, coupled with vocationalized training in high school and matrilineal networks that pull at women to stay in the community, most women are headed into low-paying, service-level jobs. Under these conditions extended families, with multiple wage earners, are critical to economic survival; young women pursue any kind of job available and work hard to contribute to the family. Mothers seek to keep their daughters, who have the potential to bring additional wage earners into the family, close to home. Mothers also try to hold on to their sons, who, if married, will leave home. Matrilineal networks are an important factor in the eco- nomic survival of families.

Navajo women's employment opportunities focus on wholesale and retail trade, services, and government, where they outnumber men by two to three times. Navajo women, using local family networks, have managed to secure consistent, although minimum-wage, jobs in local motels, cafes, stores, and offices. Almost 70 percent of extended families, with mothers and children, also receive some kind of federal assistance, such as Aid to Dependent Chldren and surplus commodities. Carol explained, "Now it is opposite as in the past. It is the women who go out and get a job. The Navajo men don't. The ladies get jobs. After all, the kids are to be fed. But the men want to be superior. They want to tell the women what to do. But we are strong. And women are concerned about the family. You have to take care of your children."

Most of these women were in low-paying pink-collar jobs; they were licensed practical nurses, office workers, seamstresses, pottery painters, motel maids, cooks, waitresses, and clerks. These jobs provided no benefits, and most were seasonal. But they were consistent. Even with a high school diploma, if they remained in their home community, as most did, daughters looked forward to a future of semiskilled jobs, mirroring those of their mothers. One young woman expressed the situation clearly: "I would like to go to college to get a good job. But 1/11 probably get secretarial jobs. I would like to live close to my family down here. My aunt left, and it was very hard on them. They had to come back every month or so. It's very hard. I would like to live somewhere close around here. Not far. I'll find a job here." Jan spoke most clearly of the local employment possibilities. 'My cousin, she is washing dishes at the cafe and is only getting two dollars an hour! When my sister and I worked at the motel as maids, we got more than that. But there aren't many jobs; so you take what you can get."

Young womenactively sought jobs, not careers. The importance of the intact family overpowered individual concerns over careers. A local employer spoke of his disappointment of youth returning to their fami- lies on the reservation after successfully completing post-high-school training. "They come back here to live with their families. There is a good and a bad side to that. Over there [on the reservation], they are getting strangled. It really strangles them over there with families. They can't make it on their own, and their families strangle them with responsibili- ties." This commitment to the family marginalized their identity as "workers." Carol explained, "In the traditional way and now, the family is the most important thing you can do. Life is too short to worry about jobs. The family is needed for all those ceremonies." It is also acknow- ledged that schooling experiences sometimes interferes with the pri- macy of the family. "It used to be the family. Now that they have gotten educated it is different for some," remarked Carol. But for most young women, the pull of the family remains central to their vision of their future. Jan, as a senior in high school, said, "I want to be a race-car driver. But my mom thinks it's too dangerous. So I guess I can be a secretary or nurse. She wants me to have a good job like a secretary or something and live at home." Two years after training at a vocational post-high school and one year after training in clerical occupations at the local community college, she lived with her family, husband, and two chil- dren on the reservation. Individual achievement took a subordinate position, often even hidden, to provide for the good of the group or family. Another graduating senior expressed the submergence of indi- vidual desires for the good of the family. "I'd like to be in electronics. My mom always says [to] be a secretary or something else . . .Because she says all my brothers are in electronics. She goes, We want something else.' Like my sister's husband, he's in carpentry. See, my mom wants different people to work on the family. So when we get home, like, there's a problem or something she wants us to work on that." She is now living at home, caretaking for her sister's children, while she works part time at the tribal chapter house.

Almost onethird of these young women do leave the reservation for jobs in the city. This move often does not mean an increase in standard of living. Julie left after high school to join her boyfriend in the city. While working at Taco Bell, she completed a certificate in office occupations at a community school but was unable to find office work. She worked as a motel maid for the next year. After her daughter was born, she sought part-time evening work as a clerk in a supermarket so that she could care for her child during the day. "It is real hard. We have to pay rent and bills so we both need jobs. Dan takes care of the baby while I work. Sometimes my family comes up to help. I have no time to do anything but work and take care of the baby," she explained. Although Julie enjoys the city, she does not view her situation as permanent. "We always go home. For ceremonies and when our families need us. It's like I still have an umbilical cord to there," she said, smiling. "I'm connected. We'll go back someday." Returning to the reservation would mean only exchanging one minimum-wage job for another. But it would also mean the elimination of rent and utility bills and the gain of matrilineal networks that would be available for child care. The extended family on the reservation offers support that is missing for young families in the cities.

Unemployment figures, dependent on an individual's effort, cloud additional kinds of economic networks that enable the survival of fami- lies on the reservation. Central to these networks are Navajo women. As is illustrated below, the Begay family provides an example of a particular family's economy, an economy that relies on multiple (often minimurn- wage) incomes to provide support for the group. Although survival is a consistent struggle, they express pride and independence living on the reservation.

Joehas worked for 11years in the mining industry. Scattered through- out these years were years of unemployment when the fluctuation of uranium prices in the world market forced plants and mines to lay off workers. Linda started working as a maid in a local motel when she was a teenager. As her six children grew up, she continued working season- ally as a maid and as a waitress in a cafe. Her eldest daughter joined her as a maid during her senior year in high school. She cleans homes of local Anglos. Providing child care for relatives brings in additional food and cash. Each spring and fall, her flock of sheep is sheared and its wool sold to the trading post. An occasional kg is woven for sale. A large garden yields food for the family, with surplus to sell. The family makes kneel- down bread with corn from the garden and sells it at fairs and in town. Selling snow cones and homemade pies are other family enterprises. Over the past several years family members have supplemented Joe's income with work in the uranium plant, on road construction crews, and as clerks, waitresses, cooks, motel maids, pottery painters, fruit pickers, and tribal temporary employees. Sons and daughters move off the reservation in search of employment and back again when temporary employment ends. Whether on or off the reservation, the individual contributes to support for the entire family. All who can do so work at jobs or at home. Pooled resources buy food, clothing, and necessities, and pay for car and insurance bills.

This family gathers home again on the weekends and for ceremonies. During these times they speak positively on their lives. Joe explained, "We don't have electricity. And we don't have electric bills. We haul water, and we don't have water bills. And out here we don't have to pay for a [trailer] space." Nightly television watching, lights, and the vacuum cleaner only require an adapter and a car battery. His sister added:

A medicine man warned us about what happens when you leave. He said, 'They educate us to be pawns. We are educated to do a thing, and then we become pawns. Must work for money to pay for the water bills, the electricity. We become pawns." So you see, we have our water, even though we haul it from 16 miles away, we have our warm house, and our meat and food from the land. In town we have to pay for these things, and then we become dependent.

Navajo Women and the Middle-Class Bias of Educational Discourse

Contemporary educational discourse offers three perspectives that both enable us to better understand Navajo women's relations to schools and illustrate the recurring tendency of educational discussions to rely upon middle-class assumptions. By considering Navajo women's rela- tions to schools via a discussion of three different literature-the policy literature on "at-risk students, the theory of involuntary minorities developed by John Ogbu, and feminist reproduction research-we hope to work toward a better understanding of Navajo women's relations to schools and toward a better understanding of the middle-class biases shaping contemporary educational discussions.

In all three literatures, there is an underlying commitment to middle- class values privileging academic success and economic mobility, given the standards of the economy-a focus that the authors of Habits of the Heart called "utilitarian individualism." According to their findings, this overarching commitment to career success constitutes one of the defin- ing characteristics of the middle class (Bellah et al. 1985:27).Tlus is an ethic forged in industrial settings by groups who successfully estab- lished themselves in managerial- and professional-level employment. The economic context on the reservation is significantly different. Nava- jos on the reservationare far less dependent upon the cash economy than nonreservation dwellers. They pay no rent. Most live with only the electricity produced by their own generators and haul their own water. They grow some of their own food and raise sheep for ceremonies and for selling. Jobs play an essential role in the family economy but are not the central economic source. Large families subsist on poverty-level incomes.

In this context, the historical patterns of cooperation and family networks prove to be critical for survival. Navajos share resources, including cash, food, tools, or labor. Having something another individ- ual needs creates an obligation to provide for the person in need. Navajo people assume a cooperative social context in which each individual is obligated to help others. According to Louise Lamphere, "A Navajo is generally obligated to fill the requests made of him, and he expects that he will be able to find someone to fill his own requests" (1977:36). The very individualism that is second nature to much of the middle class is unethical from a Navajo perspective. Whereas the middle class expects individuals to earn their rewards through hard work and often feels no obligation to people who have not earned their own subsistence, many Navajos would think poorly of someone who focused upon their own economic advancement and did not take care of others. As an elderly Navajo man said, "You can't get rich if you look after your relatives right. You can't get rich without cheating some people" (Kluckhohn and Leighton 1974:300).

Navajos who assume the supportive context supplied by family net- works look with some consternation at the nuclear families and individ- ual economic striving that characterizes much of city life. Asked about such circumstances, Jan said, "The way whites live seems to be lonely. To live alone is kind of like poverty." Reporting on her own experiences in the city, she said, "It was lonely in the city. My mother needed us, her daughters; so we moved back. The family is real important. This is the main thing. You depend upon the family to teach each other and to be brought up right. If it is not the whole family being involved in it, then it is like lack of communication." Jan is one of many Navajos in Deyhle's study to have tried thecity and found it isolating, only to return to family networks on the reservation.

This fundamental divergence between the familial orientation of Navajo people and the assumed trajectory of "successful" (that is, indi- vidualistic) students accounts in large measure for the inability of schools to meet Navajo women's needs. To the degree that analyses of Navajo women's relations to schools also assume the very individualism that Navajo women reject, we can expect that an improvement in their relation to schools is unlikely.

Analyses of "At-Risk" Students in National Policy

While Navajo culture has received little or no consideration in the prominent "at-risk" reports, policy makers direct their prescriptions toward American Indian students, and young Navajo women's high dropout rates and high levels of teen pregnancy qualify them as high- risk students. In Deyhle's study, 42 percent of Navajo women dropped out of high school, and 40 percent of those did so due to pregnancy. The perspective developed in at-risk reports is the clearest example of a recurring tendency in educational thought: middle-class expectations positing a career-oriented student direct the analysis and recommenda- tions, rather than a sympathetic consideration of students' own cultures and interests. Since teen pregnancy obstructs the career orientation that policy makers deem appropriate, it is defined as a problem to be over- come without consideration of the powerful role that matrilineal net- works play in Navajo life.

National educational policy makers have developed an understanding of "at-risk students' relations to schools which assumes a specific economic agenda. From the perspective of the National Gover- nors' Association, the nation cannot maintain the current "standard of living or perhaps even our security if we have more incapacitated or underutilized people than our competitors have" (1987:ix). "The highly skilled, technologically advanced, healthy and literate labor force that will be needed in the years ahead demands that not one potential member be wasted" (National Governors' Association 1987:61). Believ- ing that each student needs to be a contributing member of the nation's economy, at-risk policy focuses upon targeting students likely to fail "either in school or life," so that such failure might be avoided (Frymier and Gansneder 1989942). Given these economic concerns, "at-risk" becomes a deficit category covering a heterogeneous group of students who, in policy makers' judgments, might not become productive mem- bers of society: latch-key kids and Spanish speakers, drug dealers and, African Americans, low-income kids and pregnant Navajo teenagers. (See, for example, Frymier and Gasneder 1989:142 and National Com- mission on Children 1991:xxv.)

Given the economic agenda underlying at-risk analyses, and the corresponding vision of the ideally productive student/worker, particu- lar wrath has been directed toward the especially "wasteful" phenome- non of teenage pregnancy. According to the Committee on Economic Development, "Teenage motherhood stunts two lives at once" (1987:24). Similarly, the National Governors' Association states, "No potentially greater waste exists than in400,OOO children a year who become parents" (1987:xiv). Given policy makers' neglect of students' cultures, they can only suggest that teen pregnancy is due to a host of student deficiencies. For example, the National Governors' Association explains teen preg- nancy by referring to "weak early attachments to parents; untreated health problems (including emotional and health disabilities); growing up in a poor disintegrated community; weak educational achievement (often due to weak educational support from their families); and a low sense of opportunity and self esteem" (1987:60).

Makers of at-risk policy could not have produced an analysis more completely at odds with Navajo women's lives. It is the central role of family in Navajo society and the privileged role of women within the family that explains young women's interest in becoming mothers. Young women who aspire to career success cannot expect the commu- nity understanding and support that young mothers can. Thus, Maxine relates that her educationally successful daughter complains, "Mom, I'm getting left behind," when many of her friends are mothers. Education- ally "unsuccessful" and educationally "successful" Navajo women value motherhood. Both Maxine and Lucy had babies before attaining their first college degrees; they developed means of being mothers and being professionally successful-a feat that owed much to the suppor- tiveness of their own mothers.

By defining teen pregnancy itself as an educational problem, policy makers have set themselves against a fundamental strand of Navajo culture-an approach that is unlikely to make schools more responsive to Navajo women. By defining teen pregnancy in a deficit fashion, policy makers avoid the fundamental disagreement between Navajo and mid- dle-class values. We expect that supportive educational policy would be more likely to develop from a sympathetic understanding of Navajo society and Navajo women's role in that society.

John Ogbu's Theory of lnvoluntary Minorities

John Ogbu's theory of involuntary minorities allows a far more sym- pathetic understanding of Navajo women's relations to schools than analyses of at-risk students supply. Unlike the above authors, Ogbu documents the systemic economic and social discrimination faced by involuntary minorities, and such discrimination does play a role in shaping Navajo women's educational opportunities. Ogbu's theory, however, is haunted by the tendency to consider student performance through the lens of an ideal middle-class student and worker and does not prepare us to understand the substantive cultural differences sepa- rating Navajo women from the middle-class values needed for school success and occupational mobility.

Ogbu (1974,1978,1988) argues that a racially defined job ceiling leads many African American and Chicano/Chicana students to withdraw effort from school, since the folk beliefs of their communities recognize that academic success will not be rewarded with economic mobility. For example, in Ogbu's study of Stockton, involuntary minorities were limited to unskilled and semiskilled agricultural and service work, while whites held the upper-level jobs in manufacturing and the professions (1974:25,46). School officials adapted to the job ceiling by assuming that involuntary minorities were suited to unskilled work and tended to systematically counsel them into lower-level tracks (1974:198-199).

Ogbu's theory supplies an invaluable perspective in considering the role job discrimination plays in shaping Navajo women's attitudes toward schools. As with African Americans and Chicanos/Chicanas in Stockton, Navajo people in general face discrimination in the white-con- trolled workplace; males are primarily laborers, machine operators, and service workers. And Navajo women appear to face a job ceiling con- structed, as Ogbu predicts, through racial discrimination, but they also face gender-defined job discrimination. The operations of patriarchy must be added onto Ogbu's analysis of race-based discrimination, for Navajo women are largely in sex-segregated parts of the economy; they are licensed practical nurses, office workers, seamstresses, pottery paint- ers, motel maids, and clerks. School counselors advise Navajo women into vocationalized tracks, inaccurately assuming that they wish to be in pink-collar jobs, when 80 percent of them were actually more interested in other types of jobs. Given the combination of vocationalized courses and the availability of only low-level jobs, young Navajo women are given little extra incentive to find school relevant to their life aims. After applying for a clerk job at a hospital, one Navajo women remarked, 'The women told me I didn't need a high school diploma for that kind of job. I don't need that [diploma] for the jobs around here."

Both voluntary immigrants and involuntary minorities face job dis- crimination, in Ogbu's view, but the two groups react differently to it. Where voluntary immigrants accept discrimination, partly by compar- ing their favorable circumstances to the economic conditions in their home country, involuntary minorities resent job discrimination as a continuing injustice. Voluntary minorities are more likely to expect that the barriers they face are temporary, that discrimination can be over- come via extraordinary effort, while involuntary minorities have no such hope. Expecting that job discrimination will be a long-standing obstacle and that schooling will not offer a means of mobility, involun- tary minorities develop cultural adaptations that mark borders between African Americans or Chicanos/Chicanas and the dominant white group (Ogbu 1987).

Ogbu believes that involuntary minorities develop "secondary cul- tural characteristics," which are ways of acting and thinlung that are developed in response to white society. As border markers, secondary cultural characteristics are viewed as differences to be maintained, not abandoned. Involuntary minorities develop what Ogbu calls an "oppo- sitional identity." They:

regard certain forms of behaviors, certain events, symbols, and meanings as not appropriate for them because they are characteristic of members of another population (e.g. white Americans); at the same time, the minorities claim other (often the opposite) forms of behaviors, events, symbols, and meanings as appropriate for them because these are not characteristic of white

Americans. [Ogbu 1987:323]

Having defined white cultural characteristics as inappropriate, involun- tary minorities-in Ogbu's view-face enormous obstacles in achieving school success, for many of the characteristics required for school success are considered "white" characteristics. To succeed, an African American student hazards the possibility that she or he will be charged with " 'acting white' with the inevitable outcome of losing his or her black identity, abandoning black people and black causes, and joining the enemy, namely, white people" (Ogbu 1988:177).

But Ogbu's description of the ways in which job discrimination leads involuntary minorities to develop an oppositional identity does not capture Navajo women's relations to schools. Navajo women who leave school do not tend to resent it; they are bored by the academic aspects of school. Academic success is irrelevant to a life on the reservation as a member of matrilineal networks. Navajos in Deyhle's study sometimes chided peers for "acting whiteu-for being a bilaganna-but such bor- der maintenance was largely a reaction to hostility between Navajo and Anglo students in the racially mixed and polarized Border High School; it was not used, for the most part, to oppose Navajo school success. In Navajo High School, with 99 percent Navajo students and a largely Anglo teaching faculty, little border maintenance occurred and school success was not deemed a threat to Navajo identity (Deyhle 1992a, 1992b). In both schools, many female Navajo students reported drop ping out-not out of resistance-but because the school did not fit with their life aims: 45 percent left to work at home or at a job, and 44 percent did not see the relevance of school to their lives.

Ogbu's analysis of oppositional identities may underestimate the significance of the substantive cultural differences between Navajos and Anglos because it assumes the immanent desirability of the middle-class life, and it is precisely the desirability of such a life that Navajo women question. Navajos, in Ogbu's reasoning, would pursue the route of academic achievement and career mobility if they did not have their identity staked in reacting to the dominant group. According to Ogbu, involuntary minorities "want the same things middle-class people want, including good education, good jobs and good wages, and better living conditions" (1974:7). While Navajos do want good jobs, good education, and better living conditions, they do not want to live the individualistic life that schools and businesses currently require of theupwardly mobile person.

Navajo women live an ethic that questions the dominant middle-class perspective. The family networks that are central to reservation lifecarry with them a cooperative ethic that leads students to think first of the group and of the individual's contribution to the group. As Carol said, "In the traditional way and now, the family is the most important thing you can do. Life is too short to worry about jobs." Most parents, in Christine's words, want "their children to succeed, but they also want them to stay close enough to them that they won't become lost, just because those people who do go off the reservation have a tendency not to come back." Mothers especially want their daughters to be close, either working in the home or in a nearby secretarial job. Given the individualistic life. that accompanies academic success and economic mobility, career success simply does not rank high on many Navajo mothers' lists of priorities. Thus, Linda threatened Jed, her son-in-law, suggesting that pursuing a professional career meant separation from the family: "We told him he would leave my daughter and the children here. It is his job to stay here with his family, not to go to the city for some kind of job."

The family orientation that shapes moment-to-moment decisions in Navajos' daily lives leads to a cooperative orientation that fits poorly with the individualistic expectations of most public schools. Navajo students, like many American Indian students, are often unwilling to compete against other individuals to achieve academically, for they are embarrassed to be praised at the expense of their peers (Swisher and Deyhle 1989). Where the school embodies what Goldman and McDer- mott (1987) refer to as a "culture of competition," which pits individual students against one another in the process of learning and proving mastery of information, Navajo women are not likely to relate to the implicit rules in operation. Many Navajo kids do not, for example, view tests as competitive moments in the way Anglo kids do (Deyhle 1986). One instance illustrating this value occurred when a counselor started a "high achiever" bulletin board in the high school and wanted to put up the pictures of students with B averages or better. The counselor ex- plained, the Navajo "parents complained about their kids being singled out. So we compromised. I put up a happy sticker with their names on it." Staring at the board, a Navajo student said, "The board embarrasses us, to be stuck out like that." Navajo are not at home with the middle- class bias of schools, which assumes the desirability of drawing attention to individual success.

The cooperative ethic of Navajo people is paired with a metaphysics that, unlike predominant middle-class perspectives, assumes a rela- tively humble view of human agency. Where Anglo scientific traditions aspire to predict and control the environment (Habermas 1970:56), Navajo people believe the world is an unpredictable place in which harmony is easily disrupted; they consequently strive to "walk in beauty," maintaining a balance with the environment. Individuals are not thought to be able to control their circumstances; adaptation is expected. Faced with discrimination in schools, it was often stated, "That's just the way it is. You can't do anything about it." Humans are one part of a larger cosmological system and cannot assume the ability to alter events simply through their own actions. Thus, a young Navajo woman who was struggling in school was not simply told to work harder, as in many Anglo families; she was given an all-night ceremony that was expected not merely to aid her willingness to work but also to set her relation to the school and community in balance. This humble view of humanagency, once translated into the perspective of the school counselor, becomes an inability to "think to the future." Because the counselor assumes the ability of humans to control their circumstances, he is frustrated by Navajo students' unwillingness to articulate and follow a career path. Jan, however, responds to his concerns by saying, "It's dangerous. You can't change things that happen. That's the way it is. But my counselor said I could change everything by planning on a career. I don't think that would work."

Given the profound metaphysical and ethical divergence of perspec- tives between Navajo and middle-class perspectives, many Navajo women's less-than-enthusiastic response to schools is better viewed as a stable, ethically based disagreement than as a reaction to the dominant group. Consequently, we think educators would do well to consider ways in which the school might be made more congruent with Navajo women's life paths and values.

Feminist Reproduction Research

Feminist reproduction research aids our understanding of Navajo women in a critical way that Ogbu's theory of involuntary minorities cannot: young Navajo womenorient most powerfully toward a life with family, and it is a primary commitment to the home that most power- fully shapes their attitudes toward school achievement. But feminist researchers often implicitly invoke the values of the upwardly mobile middle-class individual in both their analysis of women's circumstances and in visions of change. This implicit individualism finds little support in Navajo women's circumstances and attitudes; rather than seeking individual mobility, they strive to make economic mobility consistent with matrilineal networks on the reservation.

The tendency in Ogbu's work to focus upon the school-work relation belies a public-realm orientation that is problematized by many feminist reproduction researchers (Holland and Eisenhart 1990:18-19; Valli 1986:84-85). Several studies report that women are primarily concerned with their family responsibilities, not with job prospects. The Anglo working-class women interviewed by Jane Gaskell, for example, "all assume they will have primary responsibility for domestic work-for child care and for housekeeping" (1992:75). Working-class women's dedication to life in the home, in Angela McRobbiels study, led to a dismissal of school that describes well the attitudes of Navajo women:

They were in school but not at the school. It became their territory during the time spent there, but it wasquickly forgotten when they got home.They found little in the school with which to identify actively. The ideas and values with

which they preferred to identify were those of their mothers and other female members of the family. [McRobbie 1991:58,emphasis in original]

Just as McRobbie describes, those Navajo women in Deyhle's study who liked school valued it most for its social functions. They had an abstract commitment to the importance of gaining a diploma and some sense that the credential would improve their employability, but a large percentage of them could not see its relevance to their lives. Since jobs were assumed to be low-level and were merely viewed as an intermit- tent source of cash, not as a means of status attainment or individual expression, school was largely considered peripheral to the Navajo women's focal aims: taking their place as contributing members of the matrilineal home networks. Consequently, school work was approached half-heartedly, and women were likely to drop out of school in light of home responsibilities, disinterest, or pregnancy.

While focusing on the family's influence on women's attitudes toward schools enhances our understanding of Navajo women's values, the description of women's choices in the feminist reproduction literature does not capture Navajo women's circumstances. Despite important disagreements in the feminist reproduction literature, researchers ap- pear to agree that women must choose between public and private spheres, where public-sphere activities are the source of economic sta- bility, power, and social validation, and private-sphere activities are the locus of child rearing and housekeeping. Male expectations and a job market that discriminates against women make choice of public-realm pursuits especially difficult (Gaskell 1992:8&88; Weis 1988:203). Kelly and Nihlen describe the historical genesis of the separation of public and private spheres, stating that:

as industrialization increases, the separation of the household from income generation becomes more intense as does the necessity for wage labor. The family as a unit is charged predominantly with reproduction (or procreation), and child-rearing and the division of labor becomes such that women, by and large, become responsible for the household and child-rearing dependent on income earned outside the home by men. [Kelly and Nihlen 1982:164]

In the feminist reproduction literature, women are often shown to be choosing between the private and public spheres, either succumbing to the socially imposed ideology of romance and becoming wives and mothers or developing a strong "worker identity," adopting an achieve- ment ethic and pursuing economic mobility in the public realm. Young working-class women in McRobbie's study embraced the ideology of romance since it expressed their overarching interest with the "demands of womanhood and with an emergent sexuality" (McRobbie 1991:42). While McRobbie believes the ideology of romance speaks to young women's concerns, she criticizes its role in preparing young women to "reproduce the sexual division of labor" and "willingly accept their subordinate status in society" (McRobbie 1991:44). Other feminist repro- duction researchers portray romance as one aspect of a system of control in which women are forced to accept a domestic role despite their commitments to an achievement ethic. In Holland and Eisenhart's study, academically successfully African American and Anglo college women initially stated a commitment to educational success and occupational achievement, only to be worn down by difficult academic demands and the unrelenting pressure of their female peer groups, which prized romantic success above all else (1990:52-54). In Gaskell's study, three- fourths of the women whom she interviewed articulated a commitment to an achievement ideology and expressed disgruntlement with the possibility of working only in the home (1992:76-78). Despite their personal commitment to achievement in the public realm, women in both studies succumbed to what Gaskell calls the "domestic ideology," which involved deemphazing their own career options and taking pri- mary responsibility for childrearing and housekeeping, only because their realistic options made choice of the home the best alternative.

In the feminist reproduction literature, women who choose the public realm over the private realm are distinguished by their development of a strong worker identity and by their rejectionof domestic ideology. The black women in London whom Mary Fuller interviewed expressed a commitment to work and frustration with the patriarchal attitudes of males they knew (1980:57-58). Similarly, the young women interviewed by Lois Weis believed that deindustrialization and the moral failings of men had rendered dependence on men untenable. Consequently, these women "made the obtaining of wage labor a primary rather than secon- dary goal. Almost without exception the girls desire to continue their education and they are clear that they intend to do so in order that they can get their own life in order" (Weis 1988:188, emphasis in original). Only one of the women interviewed by Weis articulated a commitment to romance or the "domestic code," and she was sharply criticized by the other students. Most of these women reject romance and wish to pursue careers in the name of "freedom" and "independence" (Weis 1990:5544). Weis seems hopeful in reporting that these young women "exhibit a challenge to patriarchal structures. They are, at least in terms of the ways in which they envision their lives, breaking down the Domestic Code" (1988:202).

This picture, wherein women must choose between romance and achievement, does not capture Navajo women's choices on the reserva- tion or their values. For both romance and achievement signal life courses that are part of middle-class circumstances and an individualis- tic middle-class perspective that is foreign to Navajo women's lives. Perhaps vindicating feminist suspicions that "romance" is a Western construct that serves to obscure male control, Navajo women, who enjoy an equal or dominant stance in the family, state only a minimal commit- ment to the concept. Maxine describes the "ideal romance" as "just being practical and realistic about things." They see little reason to wrap sexual relations in the idyllic images of the romantic tradition. Like the women described by Gaskell, Navajo women assume the primacy of domestic responsibilities; but unlike those women, Navajo women do not aban- don a commitment to achievement in accepting a place in the home. The choice of family is not accompanied by an ideology of romance.

The very prerequisites for the romantic worldview, isolated individu- als who only need one another to become whole (McRobbie 1991:98),do not generally occur on the reservation. Individuals act as part of family networks. In contrast to Anglos, who often define adolescence as a period in which the child establishes an independent identity, Navajos celebrate a young woman's first menstruation by guiding her into a cooperative role within matrilineal networks. After high school, the parents hope to keep their kids at home; "the parents," according to one Navajo man, "are hanging on to their daughters and sons." The precon- ditions of the ethic of romance are absent, a fact that becomes manifest as the family claims a say in the choice of the young woman's partner. Linda's criteria for her daughter's mate did not focsus on the man's attractiveness, but on his potential contribution to the family economy: "he's real smart. Real brains. But I ask my daughter, 'Is he going to be able to cut wood for me? What kind of son-in-law is he going to be? "

If most Navajo women do not choose romance, neither do they choose a middle-class orientation toward achievement. Navajo women tend to agree with the women interviewed by Weis and Fuller who suggest that men are undependable. Once women in Weis's and Fuller's studies decide not to count on men, they quite understandably adopt a career orientation, but Navajo women do not face the same options. They can and are expected to rely on their matrilineal networks. When Linda told her daughters, "Don't ever depend upon a man to support you or be dependent on him," she was reaffirming their understanding that the family was their most stable source of support. Career orientation con- tinues to have a secondary role in most Navajo women's lives in com- parison to participation in matrilineal networks. One young women stated that, "My mother kind of held me back. My sister left, and she felt one daughter away was enough." "They don't really give us a choice of what we want to become." When family pressure to stay home is combined with another young women's fairly accurate assessment that "I would like to go to college to get a good job but "1'11 probably get secretarial jobs," it is understandable that over 70 percent of the high school graduates in Deyhle's study decided to remain on the reservation with their parents.

Navajo women are not forced into a decision of romance or achieve- ment largely because the relation of the public and private spheres is different in urban contexts and on the reservation. The division between public and private described by Kelly and Nihlen, whereby production is located outside the home and the home economy is totally dependent on wages, does not capture reservation life. While a few members of an extended family are likely to hold jobs, much of the economic activity is located in the private realm: raising sheep, weaving rugs, making jew- elry, tending gardens, cooking for festivals. Women and men share private-realm economic activities, as well as child-rearing responsibili- ties, and jobs are held by women as commonly as by men. The private realm-not the public realm, as in urban contexts-is thus the focus of most Navajo attention and value, and women have a foundational role in the home. Women own the family property and carry a significant degree of moral authority. When Navajo women choose to live at Home, they are choosing a place in which they have a significant degree of authority and responsibility.

The ethic of the family network ensures that, even as Navajo women pursue jobs and advanced schooling, they do so out of familial commit- ment. Young women commonly describe their job plans in terms of both their parents' and their own interests. "I'd like to be in electronics. My mom always says [to] be a secretary." Mothers try to get their daughters to pursue jobs close to home, and daughters share this commitment to family; even a successful college student says, "it's very hard for me to stay up here in [the city]." When a family decides to send their daughter away to college, the decision and the aim are commonly group-oriented. Families envision an education that, in Christine's words, "will not only help the individual but will help the community itself." Thus, after achieving a college degree, Christine relates, "My dad has always wanted me to go on to pursue either medicine or law ... something where an impact would be felt on the community." Thus, both Maxine and Lucy pursued advanced study in areas--agriculture and educa- tion-that could immediately serve social needs back on the reservation.

Given the group-orientation of Navajo women, and the absence of patriarchy in their private lives, they are unlikely to define visions for change in the way that the feminist reproduction literature does. Where feminist reproduction research is quite appropriately concerned with "providing young women with more control of their lives" (Gaskell 1992:33) and thus with male domination, Navajo women are more commonly concerned with Anglo domination-which creates obstacles to gaining work, services, and schooling for the whole family. Enjoying a position of privilege both in the home and at Navajo political gather- ings, Navajo women are unlikely to assert a need to extend their own authority.

Notes toward an Interpretation of Navajo Women's Relations to Schools

At present, most Navajo women pursue life as mothers and daughters on the reservation, and schools--as currently conceived--offer little to that life course. Schools serve as avenues to upper-level jobs, and since Navajo women value family more than careers, most are not committed

to overcoming the credentialing hurdles required to qualify for profes- sional-level employment. Moreover, Navajo women expect that their efforts would be blunted by Anglo job discrimination. To the degree that educators neglect Navajo women's ethical disagreements with middle- class lifestyles and realistic assessments of the opportunities promised by such a life, they will continue to misunderstand Navajo women's relations to schools.

Young Navajo women in the community studied by Deyhle face two drastically different institutional networks: one, Navajo, matriarchal, and reservation-based; the other, Anglo, patriarchal, and city-based. As Navajo women enter whitedominated schools and businesses, they trade a powerful respected role for the subordinate role that Anglos reserve for both Navajos and women. While many Navajo parents want their kids to experience the best of both worlds-wedding school achievement with living a Navajo life on the reservation-difference~ of culture and Anglo power make such a task difficult. The ethic of coop- eration embodied in family networks is so sharply at odds with the individualism promoted in the Anglo schools and economy that "suc- cess" would, in many cases, require an abandonment of basic Navajo attitudes and beliefs.

Schools implicitly expect assimilation to middle-class individualism. As Joe eloquently states it, the school "puts another life to the students, and it takes them away from their parents." The vision of economic mobility paid tribute to by educators and the larger educational dis- course is most possible if Navajo women leave the reservation, but such a decision threatens Navajo women's most basic values while promising them very little. Young women in the cities commonly endure feelings of isolation and face minimum-wage jobs, with minimal hope for even- tual success, since they have reason to believe that racial and sexual discrimination limits their economic mobility.

Most Navajo women thus make minimal efforts to succeed in the Anglo world of schools and business. They expect to remain on the reservation, bordered by the four sacred mountains, focusing most of their efforts on the family. Claiming one's place as a daughter and a mother gives young Navajo women a comfortable and respected place in the larger Navajo community. Given the predominance of a matriar- chal ethic, most young Navajo women do not approach school aggres- sively, for it does not aid their life in the family in important ways. Jobs are merely viewed as one contribution to matrilineal networks.

A small number of women actually succeed in bridging the Navajo and Anglo worlds, and given the cultural differences and political clashes between the two worlds, this is an impressive accomplishment. Women like Lucy and Maxine have done it: they performed well in local schools and leave the reservation periodically to gain advanced degrees in universities hundreds of miles away; they continually return to the reservation to maintain their primary commitments to their mothers and

children; and they are among the small percentage of Navajo people who have found professional-level work either on the reservation or within the border-reservation area. Most Navajo women simply do not attempt such heroic feats.

In Lucy's and Maxine's cases, success did not result from an abandonment of Navajo beliefs or practices and an acceptance of middle-class individualism. By asking us touse the vagina story to illustrate "what's different about us," they make it clear that in Navajo society women are at the core of both beliefs and practices and that this positioning of women is central to understanding their lives. Their success relied upon a familial commitment to their education, for the family helped put them through school and looked after their children. Correspondingly, their motivation was not for individual mobility but for the good of the family, and more generally, in Christine's words, it is "an investment in the community."

Donna Deyhle is an associate professor in the Department of Educational Studies at the University of Utah. Frank Margonis is an associate professor in the Department of Educational Studies at the University of Utah.


Acknowledgments. We would like to thank Audrey Thompson, Catherine Emihovich, and the AEQ reviewers for their thoughtful comments on earlier drafts of this article. Although they must remain unnamed, we would like to thank the hundreds of Anglo and Navajo people who made this research possible.

  1. Deyhle has been conducting ethnographic research in a Navajo border-res- ervation community for the past decade. During this time she listened to Navajo youth talk about their lives and watched them grow up and have families of their own. She attended their high school, joining them in over 300 classes, watching their struggles, successes, and failures. During this time she became involved in extracurricular school activities, including athletic games, plays, dances, carnivals, and "hanging out" on main street and at local fast-food restaurants. With Navajo parents she attended school and community meetings and watched (and participated) as they fought for local political control over their children's education and struggled through racist treatment by the Anglo community. Teachers, administrators, political leaders, parents, and community members answered endless questions over the past decade. As an outsider trying to understand the contemporary lives of Navajo youth, she was sup- ported, tolerated, and educated by many local Anglo and Navajo people. Although they must remain unnamed, without their help this research would not have been possible.


  2. There are many different versions of the Navajo creation story. Paul Zolbrod's version (1984) was suggested to Deyhle because, according to Maxine and Lucy, it is a version that does not gloss over sex.


  3. This is not to ignore the fact that Navajo women's roles have shifted, and in some cases diminished, over the last generations as the patriarchal influence


of Anglo society has seeped into Navajo society. In addition, a generation of boarding-school-trained mothers created a gap between some mothers and daughters. Returning to the reservation for these women meant another kind of education-learning a Navajo way of life. Social problems such as alcoholism and broken homes, coupled with high unemployment, have taken their toll on Navajo women, their children, and families.

4. Details of the ceremony are reported in Begay 1983 and Frisbe 1964.

5. Clyde Kluckhohn and Dorothea Leighton wrote about the differences between Navajo and Western cultures regarding sex:

The people have only "object taboos" as regards sex, none of the "aim taboos" of which are so marked a development of western culture. That is, Navahos do feel that sexual activity is improper or dangerous under particular circum- stances or with certain persons. But they never regard sexual desires in themselves as "nasty" or evil. In school and elsewhere, whites have tended to operate upon the premise that "any decent Navaho" will feel guilty about a sexual act which takes place outside of marriage. This attitude simply bewil- ders Navahos and predisposes them to withdrawal of cooperation in all spheres. To them sex is natural, necessary and no more or less concerned with morals than is eating. [Kluckhohn and Leighton 1974:36]

Navajos do, however, have strong taboos against marriage or sexual relations withclan relations. Navajo womenin Deyhle's study talkabout the fear of falling in love with a clan relative and not being allowed to marry. In some circum- stances young men and women who are clan related and in love do choose to marry. The Navajo Nation, in attempting to stop mamage between clan rela- tives, announced it will not recognize these mamages as legal.

6. These statistics derive from a set of 168 questionnaires administered by Deyhle in 1989-90 with youth that had left school.

References Cited

Begay, Shirley 1983 Kinaalda: A Navajo Puberty Ceremony. Rough Rock, AZ: Rough Rock

Demonstration School, Navajo Curriculum Center. Bellah, Robert, Richard Madsen, William Sullivan, Ann Swidler, and Steven Tipton

1985 Habits of the Heart: Individualism in American Life. New York: Harper and Row. Committee on Economic Development 1987 Children in Need. New York: Committee on Economic Development. Deyhle, Donna

1986 Success and Failure: A Micro-Ethnographic Comprision of Navajo and Anglo Students' Perceptions of Testing. Curriculum Inquiry 16(4):365-389. 1992a Constructing Failure and Maintaining Cultural Identity: Navajo and

Ute School Leavers. Journal of American Indian Education 32:24-47.

199213 Beyond High Schools: Cultural Integrity and Economic Marginaliza- tion. Paper presented at American Educational Research Association, San Francisco.

Frisbe, Charlotte 1964 Kinaalda: A Study of the Navaho Girl's Puberty Ceremony. Middle- town, CT: Wesleyan University Press.

Fryrnier, Jack, and Bruce Gansneder 1989 The Phi Delta Kappan Study of Students at Risk. Phil Delta Kappan 71(2):142-146. Fuller, Mary

1980 Black Girls in a London Comprehensive School. In Schooling for Women's Work. R. Deem, ed. Pp.52-65. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.

Gaskell, Jane 1992 Gender Matters from School to Work. Milton Keynes: Open University Press. Goldman, Shelley, and Ray McDermott

1987 The Culture of Competition in American Schools. In Education and Cultural Process. G. Spindler, ed. Pp. 282-300. Prospect Heights, IL: Wave- land Press.

Habermas, Jurgen 1970 Towards a Rational Society. J. Shapiro, trans. Boston: Beacon Press. Holland, Dorothy, and Margaret Eisenhart 1990 Educated in Romance: Women, Achievment and College Culture. Chi- cago: University of Chicago. Kelly, Gail, and Ann Nihlen

1982 Schooling and the Reproduction of Patriarchy. In Cultural and Eco- nomic Reproduction in Education. M. Apple, ed. Pp. 162-180. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.

Kluckhohn, Clyde, and Dorothea Leighton 1974 The Navajo. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Lamphere, Louise

1974 Strategies, Cooperation and Conflict among Women in Domestic Groups. In M. Rosaldo and L. Lamphere, eds. Pp. 97-112. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

1977 To Run After Them. Tucson: University of Arizona Press. 1990 Historical and Regional Variability in Navajo Women's Roles. Journal of Anthropological Research 45:431456. McRobbie, Angela 1991 Feminism and Youth Culture: From Jackie to Just Seventeen. Boston: Unwin Hyman. National Commission on Children 1991 Beyond Rhetoric: A New American Agenda for Families. Washington, DC: National Commission on Chldren. National Governors' Association 1987 Bringing Down the Barriers. Washington, DC: National Governors' Association.

Ogbu, John 1974 The Next Generation. New York: Academic. 1978 Minority Education and Caste. New York: Academic Press. 1987 Variability in Minority School Performance. Anthropology and Educa-

tion Quarterly 14312-334.

1988 Class Stratification, Racial Stratification, and Schooling. In Class, Race, and Gender in American Education. L. Weis, ed. Pp. 163-182. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Reichard, Gladys 1928 Social Life of the Navajo Indians. Columbia University Contributions to Anthropology. New York: Columbia University. Roessel, Ruth 1981 Women in Navajo Society. Rough Rock, AZ: Navajo Resource Center. Swisher, Karen, and Donna Deyhle 1989 The Styles of Learning Are Different, but the Teaching Is the Same. Journal of American Indian Education 29(4):1-14. Valli, Linda 1986 Becoming Clerical Workers. Boston: Routledge and Kegan Paul. Watkins, Francis E. 1944 Southwestern Athapascan Women. Southwestern Lore 10:32-35. Weis, Lois

1988 High School Girls in a De-Industrializing Economy. In Class, Race, and Gender in American Education. L. Weis, ed. Pp. 183-208. Albany: State University of New York Press.

1990 The Working Class without Work: High School Students in a De-indus- trializing Economy. New York: Routledge and Kegan Paul. Zolbrod, Paul, trans. 1984 Dine' bahane': The Navajo Creation Story. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press.

  • Recommend Us