SHIPROCK — The towering Shiprock pinnacle is perfectly framed by a window in Wilson De Vore's modular classroom tucked behind Northwest High School.

De Vore, the first traditional counselor on the payroll at Shiprock Associated Schools Inc., gazes at the famous landmark when he needs inspiration or tranquility.

"I'm here because I was a headache to teachers as I was growing up," he said during an interview. "I'm here to tell the kids that I've made mistakes. I share as much as I can with students to get them to talk, to help them find their identities."

Shiprock Associated Schools Inc., which comprises Northwest High School and Atsá Biyáázh Community School, began seeking a traditional counselor several years ago, Executive Director Leo Johnson said.

Adding the position was part of the schools' effort to change their image from an alternative education setting to a more mainstream environment. Formerly Shiprock Alternative Schools, Inc., the school changed its name in 2007.

"Students here, it seemed like some of them had discipline issues," Johnson said. "They were highly mobile, moving from school to school, and they came here because we were alternative."

Although the school has changed, some students still need additional support or help working through challenges, Johnson said. Administrators worked closely with governing board member Charley Joe to develop a job description that captured the schools' need for contemporary counseling and traditional knowledge.


De Vore fit the role, Johnson said.

"We wanted to find someone with extensive background in tradition, someone who knows the significance of culture," he said. "Mr. De Vore was very knowledgeable and had a good background. He also is fluent in English so he can connect with the students."

De Vore, who started at the school in September, quickly moved from a classroom inside the high school to a modular building outside, he said. His traditional singing was disturbing nearby classes.

De Vore doesn't mind. His new location allows students to leave the main campus and make a special visit to his office, a building he describes as "a place where you can be yourself."

Inside this building, students who are referred to De Vore by teachers, administrators or other staff members can talk openly about challenges. De Vore also hosts classes for groups of students who he teaches the fundamentals of Diné culture, including the creation story and how youths can discover identity through tradition.

His sessions don't take the place of the academic Diné language and culture classes in the high school. Neither is his role to convert students to native religion, he said.

"It's not conversion but identity," he said. "It's asking Who is that brown guy looking back at me in the mirror? What does it mean to be Diné?'"

De Vore, who spends most of his time with male students in grades 7 through 12, bases his lessons on the Hero Twins, deities in Navajo culture.

The twins, as legend has it, visited Spider Woman to learn the identity of their father. After learning their father was the sun, the boys traveled to him, seeking weapons that would allow them to defend their people against the monsters and create harmony.

One of the twins, Monsterslayer, confronts the negativity in life, De Vore said. His brother follows to generate resolution.

Students are encouraged to use the story to find resolution to modern struggles.

"I feel students have monsters today, life struggles that cause imbalance," he said. "I tell the students that in each of them lies the Hero Twins. You have a choice. You can go about using aggression or you can go about creating balance and harmony."

De Vore also has big plans for the Shiprock Associated Schools Inc. campus and for the faculty, staff and community.

His job description calls for him to be a consultant to administrators as they address teacher and student needs. De Vore wants to build sweat lodges on the campus, bring traditional ceremonies to students, teach seminars for staff and community, and develop a manual teachers can use to incorporate traditional teachings into every academic subject.

But his main focus is working with students, De Vore said.

The walls of his office are covered with charts, maps and pictures that portray the history of the Navajo. He also uses traditional healing objects in ceremonies when appropriate.

"There's so much healing and power in tradition," he said. "It's so much better than writing up a diagnosis and handing out medication."

De Vore's approach to counseling allows him to see actual results, he said. He often works with teens who have unresolved emotional issues, challenges at home, low self-esteem, or who are dealing with bullying or other school-based issues.

Specifically, De Vore offers teachings in language, puberty rites, the hogan, beliefs, ceremonies and identity.

"My challenges is taking Diné traditions and instilling them into the kids," he said. "My hope for them is personal growth, to grow and grow and grow and not stop."